By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Thomas’ close family friend Salima Koroma wrote in December to the San Diego Superior Court, in papers released to the public, that she wasn’t exactly taken with his new college roommate in L.A., Esteban Núñez. She wrote that Núñez “wasn’t like the kids that L.T. usually hung out with. ... It seemed as if Esteban was always getting into trouble, or doing things that would get him in trouble — if he got caught. But L.T. assured me that nothing would happen to him.”
Meanwhile, in 2007, soon after Núñez graduated from high school, Luis Santos made a permanent move to San Diego to attend Mesa College. He’d been working in real estate in Concord over the summer, but good pal Sabahi had convinced him to return to San Diego to finish college. “I kind of convinced him [to return],” Sabahi says, reflecting on the unfortunate role that chance ended up playing in Santos’ life. “I told him to come back out here.”
Like many students, Santos was broke but enduringly cheerful about it. “He never really had any money. He lived off of Von’s gift cards that his mom sent him,” says good friend Decaro, who at one point acted as his de facto chauffeur and mothered him about doing his homework.
Sabahi remembers how Santos showed up at the beach in San Diego “in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and shoes. He wasn’t the type of guy who would wear flip-flops and boy shorts. He never fully changed. He was always true to where he was from. He was a Bay Boy at heart.”
Later, after his killing, something about his lifelong pal struck Sabahi: “He was always about socializing and meeting new people. It was weird. It was almost like he knew he wasn’t going to be here for very long. He lived every day to the fullest, every day he was here. He never stressed about things. I was always the worrier, and he would bring me back to reality, and say it was okay.”
On that awful day of October 4, 2008, the phone at Sabahi’s apartment rang in the dark of the night, but he ignored it and tried to sleep. The phone wouldn’t let him. It rang at 4 a.m., 4:30 a.m., 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. He finally answered. “When I first found out about it, I was at a loss for words and started crying, you know? ... I never saw him get into a fight in my entire life. He was about bringing different groups together.”
Word of Lu Santos’ death had been spreading for hours on the campus via cell phone, fed by the apparently unarmed young men who’d been with Santos, some of whom had been stabbed. Decaro and her boyfriend drove straight to Cox Arena to see for themselves. “It is, sure enough, something out of the movies,” she told L.A. Weekly. “We see a coroner’s van and little markers for evidence. It was the worst thing you can see after hearing that. The cop — all he tells us is there is a fatality. We put two and two together.”
Before this, Decaro says, she could “walk from the library alone at 1 a.m.” But now, “This campus, that I knew for five years — I didn’t feel safe anymore. Those four who killed Lu had taken away my sense of security.”
The tragic events were set in motion three days earlier, when Garcia and his friend John Murray firmed up a plan to visit Garcia’s brother, an engineering student, and Murray’s friend Kristin Margullis, at San Diego State. Núñez and Jett became last-minute tagalongs. Núñez called his Cal State Los Angeles dorm buddy, Thomas, and asked if the former high school sports standout wanted to join them. He happily agreed.
Thomas’ friend Koroma later wrote to the court that the popular Thomas had fewer friends because he’d dropped out of Cal State L.A. and was working. “He was hanging out with us girls too much. So when Esteban called him randomly one night to go to a party, he jumped at the chance to hang with someone he thought was an old friend. ... He seemed happy to get away from all the estrogen around my apartment.”
Murray, the first witness to testify at the April preliminary hearing into Santos’ death, said that the guys all met at an apartment, smoked a bit of weed, enjoyed some steak with baked potatoes and cracked into two cases of beer and “the biggest bottle you can buy” of Captain Morgan rum. They played “beer-drinking games,” except for Thomas, who arrived later. When they left to hit some parties, Murray stayed behind, drinking and eventually falling asleep on the sofa.