A man walking with his girlfriend in downtown Minneapolis’ theater district Saturday night was pistol-whipped and fatally shot after a volatile chance encounter with a stranger in a passing vehicle, according to a murder charge filed Tuesday.

Varnell D. Allen, 23, was charged in Hennepin County District Court with second-degree murder in the shooting of 21-year-old Enzo Herrera-Garcia, of Apple Valley, at the intersection of S. 8th Street and Hennepin Avenue.

Police said that Herrera-Garcia and Allen were unacquainted before they clashed and gunfire erupted in an area of downtown that routinely draws thousands on a weekend night.

“When we have situations like 8th and Hennepin, when an innocent person is shot and killed on our city streets, that absolutely is unacceptable,” said Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. “We will certainly work with investigators, with the County Attorney’s Office to make sure that person is held responsible.”

Family and friends remembered Herrera-Garcia on social media as a friendly young man with a big laugh, who loved cars and was fiercely protective of his sisters. The Eastview High School graduate could quote nearly every line of the sitcom “The Office” and worked at NAPA Auto Parts, his sister wrote on Facebook.

“He wanted two cars, one automatic and one manual,” said Heyzel Herrera. “A simple guy. He wanted to work hard and get my parents out of the trailer park where they raised us and get them a house.”

In an earlier post, Herrera chastised those who assumed that Herrera-Garcia did something to deserve being shot.

“My brother was not a gang member, he didn’t own a gun,” she wrote, adding that he was a talented boxer. “He knew how to defend himself but never against a gun.

“My brother died fighting to protect who he loved.”

A GoFundMe page, topped with a photo of Herrera showing off a confirmation certificate from the Catholic church, has raised more than $2,500 toward funeral expenses.

According to the criminal complaint:

Police were called downtown at 10:20 p.m. and found Herrera-Garcia, with his girlfriend tending him, bleeding with a gunshot wound to the torso. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

Witnesses told police that two men in a silver vehicle were responsible, and provided a license plate number. The incident was caught on a city camera and recorded by a passerby on a cellphone.

The videos showed the couple walking and then the vehicle pulling over at the intersection and two men getting out. Allen, holding a handgun, began fighting with Herrera-Garcia and pistol-whipped him. Allen dropped the gun, picked it up and shot Herrera-Garcia. Allen and the other man got back in the car and drove away.

Herrera-Garcia’s girlfriend told police that, before the altercation, they were walking when Allen and the other man yelled something and Herrera-Garcia yelled back.

Police tracked the vehicle to Allen’s south Minneapolis address, where they saw it parked outside. When Allen came out and drove away, police pulled him over and arrested him.

In an interview with police, Allen initially denied involvement but later admitted he and his cousin got into an altercation with Herrera-Garcia and his girlfriend, pistol-whipped Herrera-Garcia and shot him. After they fled, Allen discarded the handgun.

Allen remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail and is scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday. Court records do not list an attorney for him. Records in adult court in Minnesota show only routine traffic and parking violations for Allen.

Herrera-Garcia’s death was the city’s 32nd homicide this year.

 

Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.