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Calif. Assemblyman's father killed in a home invasion in Silver Lake, where violent crime is rarely seen (updated)

The father of Assemblyman Mike Gatto was found dead with a gunshot wound on Wednesday night in his home in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Joseph Gatto, 78, was a retired teacher who had recently been working as a jewelry craftsman. Friends and neighbors have reacted with shock and sympathy for the family. Gatto's image was captured by L.A. artist Kent Twitchell, his friend, in a mural that was dedicated just days before his death.


Joseph Gatto killed in a home invasion in Silver Lake, where violent crime is rare
Los Angeles homicide detectives have been combing the Silver Lake neighborhood where the 78-year-old father of state Assemblyman Mike Gatto was found dead from a gunshot in his home Wednesday night. The younger Gatto represents the area, which has been stunned by the incident.
Residents of the well-groomed community near the Silver Lake Reservoir don’t see much violent crime.
"I can’t think of the number of times I leave my door unlocked," said Mark Brown. He remembers seeing the victim, Joseph Gatto, at yard sales. He was shocked to hear about the shooting.
“I know that there have been a few muggings on the path, and I know that there have been some car thefts, but nothing like that," Brown said.
Crime statistics from the LAPD Northeast police division indicate overall crime rates are down for the area, though some crimes have spiked.

Nadine Trujillo heads the public safety committee for the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. She says that, days before the shooting, her group met with officers from the LAPD’s Northeast and Rampart divisions, which oversee Silver Lake and Echo Park.
“Property crime has increased. It’s higher than it’s been in past years," Trujillo said.
Statistics from the Northeast Division show the Silver Lake and Echo Park neighborhoods are dealing with more robberies, burglaries and personal theft compared to last year.  
Trujillo says residents shouldn’t be paranoid, but be aware of who is coming in and out of the neighborhood.
“There are people who are casing your neighborhoods [so] that they can get to a house or a garage. We have seen break-ins in garages," Trujillo said.
Still, the sight of yellow crime scene tape blocking alleyway entrances isn’t comforting, nor is — as L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge says — seeing your neighborhood on the morning news.
"You wake up in the morning and you flip the channels, and then it’s Silver Lake," LaBonge said.
Neighbors say the elder Gatto was a retired teacher who grew heirloom tomatoes in his garden and would give them to neighbors.

Erika Aguilar

2:43 p.m.: Joseph Gatto memorialized by his friend, muralist Kent Twitchell

Days before Joseph Gatto, the father of California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, was found murdered in his Silver Lake home, his image became a permanent fixture in the art landscape of Los Angeles.

A new mural at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles that was dedicated on Friday features the elder Gatto front and center.

The work is called "Free Assembly" and depicts military veterans — the renovated building will play host to L.A. County's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Seated front and center in the mural, wearing a brown leather jacket and peering over his left shoulder, is Joseph Gatto.

The muralist is Kent Twitchell, known for the "Harbor Freeway Overture" that shows members of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra on buildings that overlook the 110 through downtown.

Twitchell told KPCC that Gatto was a longtime friend. When the mural was commissioned, he said he wanted to use real veterans as models, and he floated the idea by Gatto.

"And I said, 'Joe, were you in the military?' He said, 'Yeah!' And I said, 'Well, you're in the mural.' That's it!" Twitchell said.

The two met more than 20 years ago, according to Twitchell. As dean of visual arts at L.A. County High School for the Arts, Gatto convinced the muralist — who wanted to do nothing more than paint at the time — to return to teaching.

Twitchell described Gatto as a "very committed educator" who "just loved kids."

"The guy was just a truly gifted art educator. I mean everybody that knew him just loved him. Tough guy, authentic, no frills and BS, just a salt-of-the-earth kind of a guy," Twitchell said, noting that he was still in shock at the news.

Twitchell said he regretted not being able to make it to the Friday dedication. His daughter went in his place.

Joseph Gatto was there, too, wearing the brown leather jacket at the request of Twitchell. He presented Twitchell's daughter with a certificate of appreciation — signed by Gatto's son, Assemblyman Mike Gatto — on Twitchell's behalf.

"I can't believe it's true. He was so alive. So alive," he said.

Thursday afternoon, the L.A. County Democratic Party also issued a statement on Joseph Gatto's death.

"We are confident that the law enforcement officials in Los Angeles are working diligently to ensure that the perpetrators of this senseless crime are brought to justice," L.A. County Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman said in the statement.

— Brian Frank with Mike Roe

10:31 a.m.: Friends and neighbors react

Friends and neighbors expressed shock and sympathy following news that Assemblyman Mike Gatto's father was found murdered in his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake.

Joseph Gatto, 78, was found dead with a gunshot wound on Wednesday night, according to police.

L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge told reporters that his own family had lived in the neighborhood for his entire life and described the elder Gatto as a "fixture" in the community.

"I just wanted to say that this is very, very, very sad, and the Los Angeles Police Department and others are working very hard to try to find who did this horrible crime," LaBonge said.

Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) released the following statement in response to the news:

Neighbor Mike Johnstone knew Gatto for about 25 years. He received news of his neighbor's death from his son-in-law, who read about it online.

"He was an all around good guy, intelligent, well-spoken and very approachable; I would say he was one of the good guys, definitely," he said. "...He was a role model for I think all of us."

Another neighbor, Mark Brown, expressed surprise at learning of a murder in the area.

"The only thing I ever heard — I know there have been a few muggings in the past and car theft, but nothing like this. Never heard of any break ins. We all sort of know each other," Brown said.

7:59 a.m.: Officers going 'door to door'

Officers are canvassing the neighborhood for potential witnesses and crime scene investigators are still inside the Silver Lake home of Assemblyman Mike Gatto's father, who was found dead late Wednesday.

"They're going to go door to door to determine what people may have seen, what they may have heard, so that detectives have that information and further their efforts to solve the case," LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese told reporters.

Albanese confirmed that the elder Gatto was found dead inside his home in the 2800 block of Bright Lane near the Silver Lake Reservoir, but he would not confirm whether the incident was considered a home invasion. He also declined to report a cause of death, saying that would be confirmed by the coroner's office later.

Police had earlier told the Associated Press that Gatto was found with a gunshot wound and that his home had been ransacked.

6:32 a.m.: Calif. Assemblyman Mike Gatto's father found shot, killed

The father of Assemblyman Mike Gatto was found dead Wednesday night in his Silver Lake home, a spokesman for Gatto confirmed to KPCC.

Police told the Associated Press that a family member arrived at the home shortly after 8 p.m. and found 78-year-old Joseph Gatto shot at least one time. 

They also said the home had been ransacked and that no arrests have been made, AP reports.

Patrol officers responded to a radio call of a death investigation at about 9 p.m. in the 2800 block of Bright Lane, Lt. Gus Villanueva told reporters at a press conference early Thursday.

Villanueva would not reveal the identity of the victim, but Gatto's spokesman confirmed Joseph's death.

"The Assemblyman learned of his death by phone in Sacramento. He is absolutely devastated," Justin Hager, a spokesman for the assemblyman, wrote in an email to KPCC.

The elder Gatto was a retired art teacher and jewelry craftsman, according to Hager.

Mark Brown, a neighbor, told KPCC's Rina Palta that he knew Joseph from yard sales and seeing him around the neighborhood.

"He grew heirloom tomatoes and he would pass them out to the neighborhoods. I think he lived alone in that house but his kids would come over and visit him, and he was very excited when his son was elected to the Assembly and campaign. They had signs all over the house. It's just a shock," Brown said.

Mike Gatto was elected to the 43rd District of the California State Assembly in 2010 and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

2800 block of Bright Lane

This story has been updated.