Search for motive, suspects in soccer player death

By John Rogers

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 13 2012 7:20 a.m. MST

Cousins of slain soccer player Francisco Rodriguez, left to right, Mary Salazar, Nancy Ortega and Jannette Nuno react to the victim's death outside the Rodriguez home Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 in Los Angeles. Rodriguez, a high school soccer player, was lured outside his Los Angeles home Jan. 11, and shot to death shortly after a game between two San Fernando Valley schools.

Nick Ut, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The mother of Francisco Javier Rodriguez Jr. sensed something was wrong the moment her 17-year-old son opened the front door to his home and she saw a young red-haired woman standing there.

"All she (Rodriguez's mother) said was he looked scared," said Rodriguez's cousin, Mary Salazar, crying as she stood in the bloodstained front yard, steps from where Rodriguez was lured out of his home Wednesday night and shot to death.

Detectives said Rodriguez's killing was not random, but the motive and person or persons responsible remained unknown.

Rodriguez, nicknamed Ponchito by family and friends, had just returned home from a soccer game when he answered the knock at the door.

"He never answers the door," said another cousin, Janette Nuno, leading the family to believe he was expecting a visitor, perhaps someone who had texted or called him on his cellphone to say they were coming over.

When he opened the door, Rodriguez's mother briefly saw a red-haired young woman standing there, Nuno said, as her 17-year-old son stepped outside.

"He didn't even have his shoes on yet. He went out in his socks," Nuno said.

Moments later, Rodriguez's mother heard gunshots, as did neighbors up and down the block of small, single-story stucco homes.

Rodriguez was a senior at nearby El Camino Real High School, where he was a goalie on the soccer team. At the soccer game Wednesday, he had held nearby rival Taft High School scoreless in a 0-0 tie.

"He was good enough to play college ball," said 17-year-old Kao Cano, who played with Rodriguez on a club team called Real So Cal and said he learned a lot from him. He and other teammates paid their respects to the family on Thursday.

Detective David Leveque told KCAL-TV that Rodriguez was targeted, but a motive wasn't disclosed.

Rodriguez's cousins said the family is baffled. He was a good kid who had no gang affiliation, the cousins said. Although he was friendly and liked girls, if he was seriously involved with a girl recently, the family didn't know about it.

"All he did was soccer," said Nuno, managing to laugh softly through tears. "He loved it ever since he was a little kid."

Just Saturday, he had arrived back home from a soccer tournament in Hawaii where he had spent a week and a half, she said.

"He had been talking about that for weeks," Cano said. "He was really looking forward to it."

The street where Rodriguez lived is a quiet, close-knit block where many people said they have known each other for years. A dozen or so children grew up there together and have hung out with each other since they were preschoolers, said 14-year-old Nicolas Meza, who lives across the street.

"Nothing like this has ever happened here," said Meza, who added he had just sat down to watch a movie when he heard the gunshots. By the time he and his family ran outside, the shooter was gone and Rodriguez was on the ground, his mother crying over him.

Nuno said Rodriguez's father, Francisco Sr., was returning from a visit to his native Mexico and didn't learn of his son's killing until a relative picked him up at the airport and took him to the hospital.

Family members said both mother and father, as well as Rodriguez's sister, Jessica, were too distraught to speak with visitors.

In front of the family's house, where Christmas lights were strung and a basketball pole and hoop rested in the driveway, a stream of people stopped by to leave flowers, candles or offer brief prayers.

"He was a really funny kid," Meza recalled. "He'd try to make you laugh. If he wasn't your friend, he'd try to make friends with you. He wanted to be friends with everybody."

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