Under the shade of a small tree outside a Staring Lane apartment, a collection of candles illuminated photographs of a smiling Hancy Sanchez, each image serving as a reminder of a youthful existence cut short by violence on Sunday night.
Sanchez’s friends stood by Tuesday afternoon, propping up fallen candles as they exchanged memories of their friend, a Honduran man who lived in the Baton Rouge area for the better part of a decade.
“He was a cool dude,” said Jairo Salazar, a friend of Sanchez’s. “He didn’t look for problems.”
Nevertheless, trouble found Sanchez late on Sunday.
A pair of men approached the Honduran while he and another man were smoking cigarettes shortly before midnight on the porch of Sanchez’s apartment, which sits at the corner of Staring Lane and Bayou Fountain Avenue near Burbank Drive. The men asked to use Sanchez’s cellphone, so he handed it to them, according to the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
But when one of the men asked for the password to access the phone, Sanchez tried to turn around and take back the device, at which point one of the men shot him in the head, the Sheriff’s Office said.
By Monday morning, sheriff’s deputies had arrested an 18-year-old Baton Rouge man identified by investigators as the shooter, James Fitzgerald Mills Jr.
After his arrest, Mills told his mother and detectives that he was nearby at the time of the shooting, but that he did not shoot Sanchez.
According to an affidavit of probable cause for Mills’ arrest, Mills provided deputies with differing accounts of what led to Sanchez’s death. Mills’ story changed throughout the interview, in which he identified several different people as Sanchez’s killer.
Throughout the differing accounts, though, Mills maintained he was present during the shooting, a detective wrote in the probable cause affidavit.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the deputies still were looking for the second man who approached Sanchez on Sunday night, a person who has not been identified. Mills, of Baton Rouge, remained jailed at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery and illegal use of a weapon. His bail was set at $90,000.
Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said investigators do not believe Sanchez knew Mills. They also said Sanchez was not a legal U.S. resident and the homicide remains under investigation.
People who lived in apartments near Sanchez’s home said flashing lights are rarely seen and gunshots are seldom, if ever, heard in the neighborhood, even though it’s only a five-minute walk from what historically has been known as one of the parish’s most violence-prone areas: Gardere.
“We’ll get the occasional screeching tire, but nothing serious,” Josh Sibley, who has lived near Sanchez’s home for about two years, said. “For the most part, it’s quiet.”
Rebecca McCoy, who also has lived nearby for several years, said when she was awoken Sunday night by a family member who heard a gunshot, she immediately dismissed the man’s claim and went back to sleep. Gunfire doesn’t normally occur near her home, McCoy said.
Both she and Sibley said Sunday’s shooting doesn’t make their neighborhood feel any less safe.
Other area residents and visitors who declined to be identified by name also echoed Sibley’s and McCoy’s statements. Still, some of Sanchez’s friends said they know others who have been robbed at gunpoint not too far away from the neighborhood.
One of those friends, Samir Martinez, said he met Sanchez about eight years ago. Martinez knew Sanchez as a good-hearted man and an excellent soccer player. Sanchez’s favorite soccer team was Real Madrid.
Sanchez and Martinez often played soccer together at a field in Gardere. Martinez and others likely will do something special in memory of their friend the next time they play together, which usually happens on Sundays, Martinez said.
Martinez, who lives in the area, often walked over to Sanchez’s apartment at night before his friend’s death.
“But now, I’m going to think about it,” he said, questioning the safety of the short walk. “You can die over a phone. One day you’re here, next day, you’re not.”
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.