The Perez family was having a double celebration Thursday night — it was Christmas Eve and Jesus Perez’s birthday.
There was cake, large balloons spelling out Happy Birthday, and gold streamers. Perez even wore a blue party hat decorated with stars. But as Christmas Eve turned into early Christmas morning, Perez’s family found themselves in an argument with their neighbors over a parking spot.
It ended with Perez and his 15-year-old son, Jeremy, fatally shot, and his nephew Giovanny Capulin, 17, shot and hospitalized, the family said.
Police allege that Perez fired the first shot into the crowd gathered outside his home on the 3300 block of Emerald Street in Philadelphia’s Kensington section, and that officers fired back at him. That information was based on the Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit’s initial investigation, which included at least one of the officers’ body-worn camera footage, Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police department spokesperson, said Saturday.
But the family is pushing back. Outside of Perez’s home on Saturday, they cried and remembered him as a “family man,” who played basketball and video games with his two sons, and worked hard in landscaping. He also had a 17-year-old daughter.
They said he was not the kind of person who would shoot his own kid.
“He always was out here either shining his car or just goofing around with people,” said Diana Cuevas, 27, Perez’s sister, who did not witness the shootings. “He was loved by everybody.”
“He took care of us,” said Perez’s brother, Noris Cuevas-Nova, 26, who also did not see the shootings. The family living in the Philadelphia region is close-knit, he said, because many other relatives still live in the Dominican Republic. ”We didn’t have our father around, he was that father figure and took care of us while he was taking care of his family.”
Diana Cuevas and Noris Cuevas-Nova had just been FaceTiming with Perez around midnight Thursday to wish him a happy birthday. (The family said he turned 44, while police say he was 43.) His siblings cried remembering their last conversation. “He was happy, smiling,” Cuevas-Nova said. “Everything was good.”
Around 12:30 a.m., police said they arrived on Emerald Street, responding to a reported disturbance or fight.
Police said the two officers at the scene attempted to defuse the situation when a large crowd gathered on the sidewalk and the street, where people were yelling and throwing punches. According to police, Perez pulled a handgun from his right rear waistband and fired into the crowd. That is when police say his son and nephew were hit.
Then, according to the police account provided Friday, the two officers at the scene shot Perez in the torso, killing him. Police said they recovered a 9mm Smith & Wesson reported stolen from Virginia from his hand.
Perez and his son were pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital, where Capulin was still hospitalized as of Saturday afternoon, his mother said.
Police did not disclose additional details, such as how many times Perez was hit, or how long the officers at the scene have been on the force. A department directive requires that officers who shoot people will be publicly identified within 72 hours.
The family contends the police version of events is incorrect, claiming they have security footage to dispute it. They would not allow an Inquirer reporter to review that video on Saturday, saying they first wanted to get a lawyer. They said they don’t believe Perez had a gun, but did not explain how police allegedly recovered one from his hand.
Saturday night, CBS3 aired cellphone video of the shooting scene that appears to have been filmed from someone in an upper floor of a nearby home. It shows people physically fighting in the street before the sound of multiple gunshots can be heard. The video pans away as shots continue. When it pans back to the scene, the crowd seems to have dispersed and there is only one man left standing in the street.
Capulin’s mother said she was at the scene, and said she believes she saw police fire all shots. She acknowledged having been caught up in the street fight, revealing a large bruise on her right arm. In the chaos of the moment, she said she didn’t realize one of the bodies on the ground was her own son.
The mother, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution, cried as she remembered the violence.
Of the two teenagers, “they bring down Jeremy first,” she said outside the Perez home Saturday, pausing to catch her breath between sobs. She pointed to the sidewalk. “It was the cop that was standing there.”
“And the second shoot was my son. I didn’t know it was my son, it was so crazy. It was everybody running all around,” she said. The moment she recognized him, lying on the ground bleeding, she saw his eyes roll back in his head, and recalled wailing: “Giovanny! Giovanny! Wake up! ... You got to be strong Giovanny. Don’t go, Giovanny.”
Saturday afternoon, Perez’s family visited a memorial of candles, beer bottles, and stuffed animals mourners had erected at the shooting site — and continued to question the police version of events.
“Why would he shoot his own kid? He’s not like that. He didn’t have a gun,” said Perez’s younger brother, Cuevas-Nova. “He came out to defuse a fight. It’s all wrong. ...The two teens were his nephew and his son. Why would he shoot his nephew and his son?”
Staff writer Valerie Russ contributed to this article.