Robert Faz, a next-door neighbor to Manuel Contreras for the past five years, said he got to know his neighbor pretty well over the years.
“He was a very friendly, hard-working guy. He was the first neighbor I met when I moved here," Faz said of the east Bakersfield neighborhood where they lived. "We would see each other every week or so, just talking about life, our kids, whatever was going on.”
Faz said he heard about the shooting spree that took place the night before at a trucking company, not far from their homes, but didn’t know his neighbor had been involved until Thursday morning, when he came across Manuel’s wife.
“I saw her outside this morning and I started talking to her,” he said. “Normally she’s off to work, but she was in her nightgown still. It was kind of odd. I asked if everything was OK and she just fell apart. That’s when I realized what had happened.”
Faz said he couldn’t believe at first that his own neighbor, who worked at T&T Trucking, had been killed.
“I was in tears with her. We were blown away,” he said. “I didn’t know it would involve someone that I knew. It’s devastating. It’s horrific.”
As more details of the shooting rampage emerged Thursday, and the victims were identified by authorities, one thing became clear: the tragedy that left six dead has also left many children without parents.
Contreras had three adult children who he would often talk about, Faz said.
The shooter, Javier Casarez, and his ex-wife, Petra Maribel Bolanos De Casrez, whom he shot and killed at the trucking company, also had three children, ages 18, 17 and 10. They shared joint custody.
And Laura Garcia, who was shot and killed along with her father, Eliseo Cazares, 57, at their Breckenridge home, was a mother to four children — twin boys in eighth grade, a son in second grade and a daughter in first grade.
Laura Garcia was described as a bright spirit and a hardworking, loving mother by Ashlie Harrington and Jade Marrisa, who first met the family while working in the child care program at Orangewood Elementary, where Garcia’s four children attended.
"She was just the sweetest person. As soon as she walked in you knew that she was always happy to see them. You could tell she was a very hardworking mom," Marrisa said.
"We would start talking and every single time we would talk for 30 minutes or so, and she had to rush out, but she would always leave laughing," Harrington said.
Laura Garcia, always well dressed, would rush from work to pick up her children and take them to sports and activities, Marrisa and Harrington said.
Eliseo Cazares, Laura’s father, would also pick up the children from school on occasion, Marrisa said.
"She and the grandfather meant the world to them," Harrington said.
Oceanside resident Ana Bautista, who is a cousin to Laura Garcia and a niece to Eliseo Cazares, said she initially heard about the shooting from a news post on social media.
"I saw a story on Facebook that there was a shooting in southeast Bakersfield, but I didn’t think anything of it. Shootings happen here all the time," she said. "It wasn’t until two hours later I got a text from my sister who said Laura and Eliseo got killed."
Bautista said she then connected that information to what she read about in the news. The shooting will change her family forever, she said.
"We’re still in shock," she said. "It completely caught the family by surprise. We’re all trying to cope with what’s happened."
Bautista said she believes Laura Garcia's children are now living with an aunt and uncle.
"Her kids were everything to her," she said. "They were her number-one priority."
Bautista said she will miss spending time with her cousin and uncle.
"Laura always had a smile on her face. Eliseo was always nice and liked to joke around. He was that type of person you could just talk to and he would listen," she said. "They were both so full of life. They were good people."