Father of two killed in gang-related Venice attack was a beloved school volunteer
By Gary Walker
Given Venice’s history of gang violence, it isn’t hard to believe that police suspect gang members of committing July 21’s fatal three-on-one assault in an alley near Fifth and Rose avenues. But it comes as a shock to the Westminster Avenue Elementary School community that the murder victim, whom police describe as affiliated with the same gang, was popular parent volunteer Pedro Ruiz.
“All my students loved him. The students loved him so much they flocked to him. He would often play soccer with students during recess, and almost always attracted a crowd,” said Westminster Avenue Elementary transitional kindergarten teacher Beth Clark. “Pedro was always there picking up his kids and would volunteer for school events all the time. He worked tirelessly with our school community and was such an integral part of Westminster. We are all going to miss him so much.”
“It’s a devastating loss for our school community. We’re all just completely shaken. He was a very happy, joyous and active parent at our school,” added Westminster Avenue Elementary Principal Barry Cohen.
Ruiz was 29 years old and a native of Venice. After a short time at Google’s Playa Vista campus, Ruiz worked at the Sprouts grocery store in Westwood, where according to a corporate spokesman he’d recently been promoted “based on his job performance.” A gofundme.com page to assist his wife and two young children exceeded its $10,000 pledge goal in less than five days, attracting more than 100 donors.
Friends of Westminster President Sarah Truesdell, who organized the online fundraiser, said Ruiz served with her on the school’s booster club and was someone she could always count on to help out.
“He was the kind of parent volunteer who always stepped up whenever the school needed something, no matter how unglamorous, like setting up or cleaning up for school events, attending all the booster club meetings, and just generally always willing to pitch in,” said Truesdell. “I’ve been inundated with emails and messages from the school community since this happened.”
Ruiz’s widow, Jasmin Marin, said the couple first met in a sculpting class at Venice High School. She remembers Ruiz being friendly, but so shy that she had to make the first move. Marin, 26, still remembers the exact date he asked her to be his girlfriend: Dec. 5, 2007. Nearly 12 years later, the man who became her husband was still “the same goofy, bubbly guy that would do anything for anyone,” she said. “He was my soulmate.”
The picture that she and others paint of Ruiz as a dedicated father and volunteer at his kids’ school underscores a tragic duality for many young men who grew up in Venice amid rampant gang activity and violence in the 1990s and early 2000s. Police say Ruiz and his attackers were members or affiliates of the notoriously brutal Venice 13 street gang.
Los Angeles Superior Court records show that in 2008, a few months after Ruiz turned 18, Ruiz pled guilty to charges of robbery and grand theft. Records also show that Ruiz pled guilty in 2010 to charges of drug possession and possession of a deadly weapon.
Clark said she was surprised to read that police believe Ruiz was affiliated with a gang.
“I just wonder about the validity, but it still does not change my memories of how great a dad he was and what a sweet man he was,” she said. “Plus, gang-related or not, it was so horribly brutal.”
“I don’t think many people knew a lot about his personal life. He was a sweet person. I didn’t know that he grew up in Venice. It’s hard to believe he’s gone,” said Nora Dvosin, a friend and fellow school volunteer who often worked with Ruiz in the school’s educational garden.
Marin said she was stunned when police said her husband had been killed by gang members. She was with her husband most of the day that he was killed, but declined to go into detail so as not to jeopardize the ongoing police investigation.
“It came as a shock to me. For this to happen the way that it did was mind-blowing,” Marin said.
Police took a man they are calling “a person of interest” into custody shortly after the attack. Ruiz died at the scene from blunt force trauma, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office.
Marin said she and her husband were so close they often wore clothes that matched or had similar colors.
“Sometimes after we dropped the kids off at school we would go out to breakfast. Whenever he saw an older couple he’d say, ‘That’s going to be us. We’re going to grow old together,’” she recalled.
Among Marin’s hardest tasks since her husband’s murder was how to explain to their eight-year-old son Angel and six-year-old daughter Jazlene that their father would not be coming home.
“After I told him, my son’s words were, ‘Mom, I’ve lost my best friend forever,’” Marin said.
Ruiz is to be buried this week at Holy Cross Cemetery & Chapel in Culver City.
Cohen said the impact of Ruiz’s absence from Westminster will be deep.
“He had such an infectious smile,” Cohen said. “It’s hard to believe that he’s not here anymore.”