Family and friends of David Sanchez are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in his April 12 slaying outside Victory Foods off Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville.
Those with information should call the Hall County Sheriff’s Office tip line, available in Spanish or English, at 770-503-3232. Callers may remain anonymous.
“Please respect our pain.”
Those are the words written in Spanish with a black marker on a sign taped to the door of David Sanchez’s business, Joyeria y Novedades Latinos.
Inside the store, women are dressed in black with tired eyes. They say they will wear that color until they find out who is responsible for Sanchez’s death.
Sanchez, 46, was shot April 12 outside a poultry processing plant in Gainesville.
The culprits, still at large, took Sanchez’s 2009 Nissan Murano and money he would have used to cash plant employees’ checks.
The vehicle was later recovered. The money is gone. His wounds proved to be fatal. And the pain is still palpable.
In a community of impoverished immigrants, Sanchez was a rare success story. He came to America from Mexico alone and built a business from next-to-nothing. He had almost realized the American dream.
Arturo Corso could barely get into his funeral.
“There must have been 500 people in there,” Corso said of Monday’s service at Memorial Park Funeral Home.
“Prominent, close loved ones couldn’t squeeze past the hallway, because the chapel was so full ... we took every parking space and every square inch of the facility.”
For 13 years, Sanchez had been a part of some of the most precious moments in the lives of local Latinos, planning and providing clothes for their weddings and quinceañeras, a coming-of-age celebration for 15-year-olds.
Sanchez had started a check-cashing business at his Atlanta Highway store.
Because of Latinos’ reluctance to go out in public after the passage of a sweeping state law targeting illegal
immigrants, Sanchez had made it a mobile business in the last year, driving to a number of the places where Latinos work in town — including Victory Foods on Industrial Drive, where he was shot.
Friends believe the money was the key factor in the shooting.
His best friend, Olga “Betty” Galvan, said she doesn’t know who killed Sanchez, but believes it was someone who knew he had money with him.
Another friend, Veronica Ibarra, said nearly everyone who knew Sanchez knew he had money on him because he was always doing business.
“Money was the motive,” Galvan said. “There is no other motive.”
Hall County Sheriff’s investigators have released little about the investigation into Sanchez’s death, common for law enforcement handling an open case.
“They are still following up on everything that they can,” said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks of the sheriff’s office.
Galvan, Corso and attorney Dan Summer are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Sanchez’s killers.
“They didn’t take just a brother and a best friend,” Galvan said. “They took a very good person that helped the community.”
Success in the U.S.
Sanchez was one of a few “successful, wealthy Latino entrepreneurs” in Hall County, Corso said.
“You can probably count them on one hand, and he was one of them,” he said.
According to Galvan, Sanchez arrived in the United States at age 15 from Ocotlán, Jalisco Mexico, about an hour’s drive southeast of Guadalajara.
His body was sent back there Tuesday, home to his family.
Thirty years ago, Sanchez was an illegal immigrant. At some point — Galvan doesn’t know when — he was granted amnesty and became a legal resident.
“He (first) came to California. He came alone, with no family, and I remember he used to say that he was even eating from the trash cans, you know, because he didn’t have no money,” Galvan said. “He didn’t have nothing, so he started from the bottom.”
He came to Gainesville in 1992, where he met Galvan through a mutual friend. Together, they sold jewelry door-to-door until he saved enough money to open a store.
Sanchez always considered new business ideas, and as his wealth grew, friends said he would do anything to help others.
Having once been poor and searching for legitimacy in a foreign land, Sanchez helped immigrants because he didn’t want them to endure the same hardships he had, Galvan said.
Had he lived another year, Sanchez would have become a naturalized citizen of the U.S., Galvan said.
“That’s the dream of every illegal when they get here to the U.S., to become a U.S. citizen, to become a part of the U.S.,” she said.
Friends say Sanchez ‘would try to help you’
Galvan last saw her friend alive April 11. They had gone to the bank that afternoon and met back at the Atlanta Highway store just as two cars collided at the nearby intersection of Atlanta Highway and Pearl Nix Parkway.
Galvan said Sanchez tried to intervene before police were called.
“He was trying to help the lady that had the accident, because they were going to arrest her because she didn’t have no license. She was Hispanic,” Galvan explained. “He talked to the other guy (in the wreck), and (asked him) if they can fix the problem before they called the police.”
Later in the day, Sanchez and Galvan had taken a man who struggled with English to get his driver’s license, Galvan said.
“He was like that. He always wanted to help people,” Galvan said. “He was always involved in everything that happened. If you had a problem, he would try to help you.”
Corso and Sanchez first met when Corso established his private law practice, he said. At the time, Latinos were beginning to buy homes in Hall County.
“I was the only person probably in North Georgia that could do a real estate closing in Spanish,” Corso recalled.
The two struck up a friendship, and Corso became Sanchez’s go-to guy for people in the community who needed legal advice.
“Anybody that needed a lawyer — anybody that needed advice — if he didn’t give them the advice himself, he’d send them to me and we’d talk through things,” Corso said.
“And many, many, many times, he would pay their legal fees.”
Corso said Sanchez also lent money to others, often never returned. A number of friends said Sanchez tried to put as many people as he could to work.
Galvan said Sanchez would take boys involved in gangs and hire them as waiters for events in the hope of steering them in a different direction.
“He always had work to do — there was always a delivery, there was always a flower arrangement, there was always food to be picked up, cleaning (at) a venue before and after a big party,” Corso said. “He was a one-man job creator.”
The only detail police have released so far about Sanchez’s alleged assailants is that they are believed to be two Hispanic males.
Corso is reluctant to believe it. If it’s true, he said he will be angry.
“You don’t like to hear about this kind of violent crime happening to anyone, but it does strike a kind of ironic note that a person who was so instrumental in helping the Hispanic community — as a businessman and a leader and an example — could fall victim to the same group that he was helping,” Corso said. “It’s the same irony that people talk about when they talk about black-on-black crime.”
“That’s what makes us mad,” Galvan said. “There was a lot of people that he helped — a lot of Hispanics, especially — he always helped people. I don’t know why our own race had to do this.”
Inside Joyeria y Novedades Latinos are racks of formal dresses and suits, stacks of catalogs showcasing tuxedo vests and party backdrops. Scattered about the store are teenagers fantasizing about high school milestones.
Four years ago, Emily Ibarra was one of them. Sanchez told Emily for years he would plan her quinceañera, her mother Veronica Ibarra recalled.
When she turned 15 in 2008, Ibarra fulfilled the promise, even earning a nickname from Sanchez — “Cascarrabias,” which describes someone with a grouchy disposition. But it was an endearing tease, and once Emily had come of age, Sanchez joked that he would plan her wedding.
He would also be stern with the teenager.
“He would always tell her, ‘Emily, I want you to get out there and be somebody in life; I want you to represent a true Hispanic out there the right way. I don’t want you to be in gangs ... I want you to make us proud,’” Veronica Ibarra recalled.
A tragic day unfolds
Wednesday night before he died, Sanchez went to dinner with his sister, Diana Cantu, and her family, and he was in a good mood.
“He was very happy, very happy that day,” Cantu said, as interpreted by Galvan.
Thursday morning, Sanchez went to the gym before driving to the bank and eventually to Victory Foods. There, at least two people forced him and a female companion out of the car. They fired multiple shots, took his money and his car.
At least one bullet hit Sanchez in a major artery and damaged his kidney, intestines and bladder, Galvan said.
The woman, who has not been identified by sheriff’s office investigators, was unharmed.
Galvan wasn’t far from the crime scene. She was eating lunch on Browns Bridge Road when someone called to say he’d been shot.
“I didn’t even pay,” she recalled. “I just ran outside of the (restaurant), and I went driving to the poultry plant.”
On her way, she saw the helicopter she believed was carrying her friend to the hospital. An ambulance flashed past her on the road.
“I just turned around and I followed the ambulance to the emergency room,” she said.
Cantu showed up with her husband. Corso said he and other friends went to the hospital, too. Together, they waited for hours as doctors tried to save Sanchez.
At one point, before Sanchez underwent surgery, Galvan got to see him again.
“I touched his forehead and his hair and I prayed for him,” she said. “And I told him to be strong, that we needed him, he needed to be here with us — that he was very strong.”
She had offered to give her kidney, but the doctor said it wasn’t what Sanchez needed. He just told her to pray.
Later, he came back to say that Sanchez had died.
‘We had a lot of plans’
Sanchez would have been 47 on May 11, though on Facebook he reported being five years younger. He and Galvan were planning a big party, because Galvan, too, had a birthday coming, her 40th.
“We had a lot of plans, you know, and these people just did us wrong,” she said.
Sanchez’s sister, Galvan said, was inconsolable.
But the next day, both Cantu and Galvan were busy preparing for a wedding and two quinceañeras already scheduled for that Saturday. Both women say Sanchez would have wanted them to fulfill the business’ obligations.
Sanchez’s dedication to the job was so intense that Cantu said, at times, she told her brother she would rather work in a poultry plant than be his employee.
“He was very strict on that matter,” Galvan said.
They kept the store open last week, but not without signs of grief. Funeral flowers stood guard outside.
Flowers had also been placed outside the gate at Victory Foods, but the check-cashing business would no longer travel there. People came to help Cantu and Galvan work as they grieved.
What they still don’t know is if someone saw what happened to Sanchez or how long it will be until they get justice.
“If these people are still outside, they can do this to somebody else, to another family, you know?” Galvan said. “We don’t want another family to go through the same thing that we’re going through. It’s very hard. They made a hole in the community, not just in our family.”
Family feels Sanchez said goodbye to them
When her brother came over for what would be their last Wednesday night dinner, Cantu said he had brought gifts for her 7-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
After they ate, Sanchez went home to clean his house, and talked by phone to his other sister in Mexico until after midnight.
The gifts, cleaning of his house and the final conversations all lead Cantu to believe that, even subconsciously, her brother knew something would happen to him.
Sanchez had even spent Christmas and New Year’s in Mexico with other family members, many of whom he hadn’t shared the holidays with in nearly a decade.
“He did everything he wanted,” Galvan said. “We feel like he said ‘bye’ to everybody he needed to say ‘bye’ to.”
Tuesday, after she said her own goodbye to her brother, Cantu recalled how, after he had come to Gainesville in 1992, Sanchez convinced her to join him here.
Cantu had originally followed her brother to California, but returned home out of fear.
But when he arrived in Gainesville, Sanchez called and assured her that it was a much more tranquil city. He begged his sister to come and see for herself.
“He told her that it ... was a very nice town and there was no violence or nothing,” Galvan said.