SAN JOSE — A Safeway employee who was fatally shot early Sunday morning at a store in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood was remembered as a hard-working young man who died at the only job he ever held.
Manuel Isaac Huizar Cornejo, 24, was killed when a gunman opened fire a couple hours before sunrise and fled the store, according to his family. A San Jose resident, Huizar Cornejo had worked at the Safeway for several years — regularly manning the overnight shift at the 24-hour store, just as he had been doing early Sunday morning, said Guillermo Huizar, one of the slain man’s older brothers.
“It was the first job he ever got in his life, and unfortunately the last one,” said Guillermo Huizar, one of the slain man’s brothers.
A day later, San Jose police had yet to announce any arrests in a killing that rocked the Willow Glen neighborhood and left the store closed indefinitely.
The shooting happened at about 3:35 am Sunday, following an altercation between the gunman and an employee, according to the San Jose Police Department. Authorities had not confirmed Huizar Cornejo’s name by Monday afternoon.
Police have released few other details about the shooting, including the circumstances surrounding the fatal encounter. Amid reports that the shooting followed an attempted robbery, Steve Aponte, a police spokesman, said any such suggestion was “speculation.”
Still, multiple staff members of the store told a Safeway employee union leader that the killing appeared to come after someone tried stealing alcohol. A conflict then ensued between an employee and the gunman, during which the employee was shot, said James Araby, the Director of Strategic Campaigns for UFCW local 5, a 30,000-member union representing Safeway employees in the Bay Area.
Araby stressed that employees should not interact with suspected thieves, because “no product is worth your life and it’s not your job to stop crime from happening.”
“At the union, we’re here to stand with the family in need and will do anything we can to make sure they have the resources to deal with this tragedy,” Araby said. “This is a call on how to make our communities safer and we’re going to need to figure out how to do that.”
The grocery store, 1530 Hamilton Ave., remained closed Monday. No indication was given of when it might reopen. For the second day in a row, a steady stream of shoppers continued to be turned away by a police officer guarding the building’s front glass doors — one of which appeared to have been shattered during the shooting.
The scene on Monday caught Corina McCarty, a San Jose resident who had shopped at the store for much of her life, by surprise. Stumbling upon a crime scene at a place where she normally buys groceries left her “scared.”
“I might be a little bit more cautious — maybe bring my mace,” McCarty said.
Born in Mexico, Huizar Cornejo came to the US when he was aged five or six, and had been working under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, otherwise known as DACA, Guillermo Huizar said. A passionate fan of Wrestlemania and the Las Vegas Raiders, Huizar Cornejo usually spent his time away from Safeway following football, playing Xbox or working out at the gym.
“He loved to help people,” his brother said. “He was just a nice human being.”
By Monday afternoon, a GoFundMe account established for Huizar Cornejo’s funeral costs had raised more than $21,400.
“He was always smiling and laughing and overall one of the sweetest people you would meet,” Salceda wrote. “He was the baby of the family and his family is broken right now.”