Ana Lopez Lopez’s phone in Los Angeles rang Wednesday night with a call from her brother who was 1,500 miles away in the Twin Cities.
Elias Benjamin Lopez Lopez, 29, just finished his shift at a local restaurant and was in a hurry to pick up last-minute groceries for Thanksgiving dinner. He was looking forward to having the holiday off and was “excited to celebrate,” she recalled in Spanish on Friday.
“He told me he was going to get a turkey to make for Thanksgiving, I told him I was going to rest, and we were going to talk more tomorrow.
The next time her phone rang with a Minnesota number, several hours later, it was a doctor calling with the news that her brother had been fatally stabbed.
“That was the last conversation I had with him,” she said, choking back tears. She demanded accountability from the man who was arrested shortly after the stabbing.
“He didn’t deserve to die,” she said of her brother. “He wasn’t in any gang. Nothing.”
His death this week touched off an outpouring of grief online in social media posts and photos from family members, friends and co-workers, who remembered him as a smart and hard-working man with an infectious smile.
About 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, Lopez got off the No. 21 bus, walked to his apartment building in the 3000 block of S. Clinton Avenue and was sitting on the front steps, chatting with a neighbor.
According to a version of events provided by friends, another man approached the pair and asked for a cigarette. The neighbor said he didn’t have any and went back inside the building.
Moments later, having realized he had forgotten something in his car, the neighbor came back outside to see Lopez being beaten and stabbed by the other man.
Lopez was rushed to a nearby hospital but died from his injuries. Ana Lopez says the doctor told her over the phone that her brother had been stabbed several times, including in the heart.
An autopsy is pending to determine the precise cause of death.
The suspect fled the scene before police could arrive, but later returned to the apartment building and was subsequently arrested, authorities said. The 19-year-old, who rents an apartment in the basement of the building, was booked into county jail the following morning on suspicion of murder.
Shortly before the attack, Lopez had finished a shift at the Happy Gnome restaurant in St. Paul, where co-workers described him as an enthusiastic jack-of-all-trades, yo-yoing from the prep line to the restaurant floor.
“He was always smiling and singing, committed and helpful to anyone in and outside of work,” said Cia Nypower, the restaurant’s assistant general manager. “It didn’t matter how short-staffed we were.”
Ana Lopez said that her brother, who first arrived in Minnesota in 2005, was putting aside part of his paycheck from working two jobs — he also worked construction — for when he eventually went back to college.
The rest, she said, he dutifully wired back to family in his hometown of Cajolá, a mountainous town outside Guatemala’s second largest city.
A family friend set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to fly Lopez back to Guatemala and to cover funeral costs.