Fili Lamas's Family Tragedy
Chip's Cafe owner Filimon Lamas shielded three children with his body while his wife, Gloria Jimenez, fought to save her mortally wounded toddler.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LAMAS FAMILY
Filimon Lamas Family Tragedy
On a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, waitress Laura Garcia leans onto the counter at Chips Café in Hawthorne, her big, brown eyes brimming with tears.
"He was a noble human being," she says of her former boss, her voice trembling. "Always did good, always stretched out a hand to help others."
Garcia is remembering Filimon Lamas, who ran the 1950s-style café along with his two brothers, Rudy and Rodrigo Lamas, until the end of October. Lamas, who was born in Mexico, was "more like family and less like an employer," she recalls.
"His kids would come and have breakfast here," she says. "He would do everything for them. His kids meant everything, his wife meant everything; he would treat her like a queen."
But in a crime that has called Garcia's faith into practice — "We can't question what God wants," she says — Lamas, 33, was killed when neighbor Desmond John Moses burst into Lamas' Inglewood home early on Oct. 20 and opened fire on his family. Lamas didn't die alone — he perished alongside his 4-year-old son, Giovani; his wife, Gloria Jimenez, was badly injured, as were two of their other four children. Only one child escaped unharmed.
The shooter, 55-year-old Moses, lived in a house directly behind the Lamases' on the same plot of land.
The crime has wrenched the heart of the 4900 block of 99th Street near Inglewood Boulevard, made up of neighbors who not only know each other's names but are also in many cases friends. The industrious Filimon was sole breadwinner for the family of six, and both the Hawthorne and Inglewood police departments have started funds to help Jimenez, a stay-at-home mom, pull her bereaved family back together. The Inglewood Police Department also plans to provide gifts to the Lamas children for Christmas.
The family has pinned its hopes for financial stability on California law CACI 1005, which states that property owners and landlords must "use reasonable care" to protect tenants from people who pose a known or easily anticipated danger. They've retained the L.A.- and Orange County–based law firm Wright & McGurk to sue the owners of the house where Lamas and his preschool-age son were slain, saying that the landlord should have known Moses might eventually snap.
Today along the quiet residential street, damp, yellow ribbons sag around the trunks of oak trees, commemorating the violence that happened here so recently.
Toward the end of the dead-end street, a small, white stucco house sits empty on a lot, the scene of the double murder.
Six glass candles emblazoned with images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary perch just feet from where, according to police reports, Moses' shooting spree began while the neighborhood lay sleeping.
Moses allegedly entered the Lamases' home at about 4 a.m., wearing body armor and a white painter's mask, and started firing. When law enforcement arrived a short time later, they found Lamas' body draped over three of his children, shielding them, and shot in the back. Jimenez was found outside, cradling her mortally wounded 4-year-old son, having fled the house screaming. She'd been shot in both legs.
The couple's 6-year-old son was shot in the pelvis, their 7-year-old daughter in the chest. Their 8-year-old son was unharmed. The 4-year-old, shot in the head, died at the hospital.
Moses' body was found much later that night, about 9:30 p.m., in the rubble of his own home, which had burned to the ground just after the murders. Authorities believe that before attacking the Lamas family, Moses set his house ablaze, then retreated into the flaming building following the shooting. He was discovered clutching a revolver, with a gunshot wound to the head.
Now, a month and a half later, the investigation is wrapping up. On Nov. 28, a small tractor removed the charred remains of Moses' house. When asked if he knew what happened there, the driver of the tractor simply shrugs.
Detective Will Salmon of the Inglewood Police Department says authorities are certain that Moses is responsible, and that he acted alone. But nobody knows why Moses did what he did, or who, exactly, this reclusive man who devastated an entire neighborhood is.
Moses was of Haitian descent, 55, and had been living in the back house on 99th Street for more than 15 years. He was registered to work as a security guard.
But Moses' lifestyle raised some red flags. He was a loner and apparent hoarder; his former lawn was still strewn, weeks later, with pages of burned books from the fire.
"He had copious amounts of books and magazines," Salmon says. "It took the firemen hours to cycle through his residence after the fire was put out."
Beyond that, Salmon says, Moses remains a mystery. "Not a lot of friends, and the few people that he did have visit him, he would keep outside his house."
The Los Angeles County Coroner's office says that even now, nearly eight weeks later, it has yet to identify a single family member to notify about Moses' death.
Neighbors in this tightly knit community don't know much more. "He was really quiet," says Fanny Paiz, who lives across the street.
"He'd walk down the street, never bothered nobody," says a neighbor who identified himself only as Sigifredo, a 99th Street resident for 30 years. "He was a lonely guy, never had anybody over."
Moses' relationship with the Lamas family is even murkier. Neighbors believe that he blamed them for an eviction notice he got after failing to pay his rent, although authorities haven't confirmed that. Salmon says that going back about a year, Moses and the Lamases had the types of problems that could be considered "normal disputes between neighbors" — over parking and the children making noise in the yard.
The disagreements seem pedestrian. However, attorney Andrew Wright of Wright & McGurk says they're the cornerstone of his firm's case against the owners of the property.
"There's a very solid argument that could be made that, yes, the landlord did seem to know" Moses might pose a threat, Wright says. "This fellow was a little off-balance, to say the least. There's some suggestion ... that he had been a problem before."
Wright says that while there's "nothing in the world that can straighten out what happened" to the Lamases, he plans to file a lawsuit within the next eight weeks.
The owner of the building is listed by the county assessor's office as Christine Mazet of Rancho Mirage. A man answering at the Mazet home, identifying himself as her husband, says, "We are being sued. We were told not to talk to anybody about anything."
But as the lawsuit plays out, and detectives wrap up the case, the Lamas family is left with the most difficult task of all: figuring out how to reconstruct their world.
According to Rodriguo Lamas, Jimenez and her children have been staying with her parents. She declined to speak to L.A. Weekly, saying through her brother that she isn't ready to talk about their loss.
Salmon says that the crime also destroyed something else: the Lamases' home, because, although it is intact, "I can't imagine them going back there."
Meanwhile, 99th Street itself is still shattered. Stephanie Velazquez, 20, lives a few houses down and hasn't left her home much since the incident.
Even the yellow ribbons have her on edge. "It's hard to think that something crazy like that happened just a few houses down," Velazquez says. "We're a friendly neighborhood. But that just brings back bad memories."
Donations to the Lamas family may be made at any Wells Fargo to account number 4122412588. Also, checks can be written to "Lamas Family Donation Fund (Account No. 5223)" and mailed to: ICE Federal Credit Union, 1 W. Manchester Blvd., Suite 603, Inglewood, CA, 90301.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.