Clues Sought in Death of 17-Year-Old California Soccer Star

Minutes before Francisco Javier Rodríguez,17, opened his front door and was ambushed by a gunman, the popular soccer player appeared distraught. His mother noticed something was wrong.

"He looked scared," his mother told Mary Salazar, a cousin.

Rodríguez's mother told relatives she briefly saw a red-haired young woman as the door opened and then her son stepped outside. Moments later, gunshots rang out along the block of small, single-story stucco homes.

Detectives said Rodríguez's killing was not random, but the motive and person or persons responsible remained unknown.

Rodríguez, nicknamed Ponchito by family and friends, had just returned home from a soccer game.

All he did was soccer. He loved it ever since he was a little kid.

— Janette Nuño, a cousin

"He never answers the door," said another cousin, Janette Nuño, leading the family to believe he was expecting a visitor, perhaps someone who had texted or called him on his cellphone to say they were coming over.

"He didn't even have his shoes on yet. He went out in his socks," said Nuño, standing in the bloodstained front yard, steps from where Rodríguez was shot to death Wednesday night.

Rodríguez was a senior at nearby El Camino Real High School, where he was a goalie on the soccer team. At the soccer game Wednesday, he had held nearby rival Taft High School scoreless in a 0-0 tie.

"He was good enough to play college ball," said 17-year-old Kao Cano, who played with Rodríguez on a club team called Real So Cal and said he learned a lot from him. He and other teammates paid their respects to the family on Thursday.

Detective David Leveque told KCAL-TV that Rodríguez was targeted, but a motive wasn't disclosed.

Rodríguez's cousins said the family is baffled. He was a good kid who had no gang affiliation, the cousins said. Although he was friendly and liked girls, if he was seriously involved with a girl recently, the family didn't know about it.

"All he did was soccer," said Nuño, managing to laugh softly through tears. "He loved it ever since he was a little kid."

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Just Saturday, he had arrived back home from a soccer tournament in Hawaii where he had spent a week and a half, she said.

"He had been talking about that for weeks," Cano said. "He was really looking forward to it."

The street where Rodríguez lived is a quiet, close-knit block where many people said they have known each other for years. A dozen or so children grew up there together and have hung out with each other since they were preschoolers, said 14-year-old Nicolas Meza, who lives across the street.

"Nothing like this has ever happened here," said Meza, who added he had just sat down to watch a movie when he heard the gunshots. By the time he and his family ran outside, the shooter was gone and Rodríguez was on the ground, his mother crying over him.

Nuño said Rodríguez's father, Francisco Sr., was returning from a visit to his native Mexico and didn't learn of his son's killing until a relative picked him up at the airport and took him to the hospital.

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Family members said both mother and father, as well as Rodríguez's sister, Jessica, were too distraught to speak with visitors.

In front of the family's house, where Christmas lights were strung and a basketball pole and hoop rested in the driveway, a stream of people stopped by to leave flowers, candles or offer brief prayers.

"He was a really funny kid," Meza recalled. "He'd try to make you laugh. If he wasn't your friend, he'd try to make friends with you. He wanted to be friends with everybody."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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