A Southern California lawmaker's 78-year-old father -- a retired teacher found dead Wednesday night in his Los Angeles home after a shooting -- was described as a "gentle man" and skilled jewelry craftsman whose death has devastated a community.
The body of Joseph Gatto was found slumped over in a chair at his ransacked Silver Lake home with a gunshot wound to the stomach, according to a watch commander at the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeastern Division.
Gatto is the father of state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles.
"He was just a tremendous guy," the assemblyman said in an interview outside his late father's home, his voice quavering. "He worked very hard to raise us right."
Gatto was in Sacramento when he received a phone call from his sister regarding his father's death. The politician's sister found her father's body Wednesday night after not hearing from him all day.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the Gatto family," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "This tragedy is devastating to them and is of concern to the entire community. I've spoken with Chief (Charlie) Beck and the LAPD is conducting an aggressive investigation."
Patrol officers responded to the home at about 9 p.m. Wednesday after a family member discovered the body inside the home on Bright Lane in Silver Lake. Details regarding how long the victim had been deceased were not immediately available, according to police.
Gatto's death marks the first slaying so far this year in Silver Lake.
"Detectives are processing the crime scene in the house and they're going to be cavassing the neighborhood for witnesses to see if anybody saw or heard anything," LAPD Detective Gus Villanueva said.
Authorities did not confirm whether items, such as Gatto's works of jewelry, were stolen from the home.
When asked if the 78-year-old's jewelry could have been a lure for a potential robber, Mike Gatto said "that's certainly something that would be logical."
"But anyone who knows my father's jewelry knows that this was not diamonds and platinum," he added. "This was artistic silver with wood and a little bit of gold, so I don't know."
Mike Gatto was elected to the 43rd District seat in a special election in June 2010. The lifelong Los Angeles resident represents Atwater Village, Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Los Feliz, Montrose, and Silver Lake in the state legislature.
The family moved to LA's Silver Lake area when he was 5.
Joseph Gatto was the first member of the family to graduate from college, according to his son's biography. He worked as a school teacher for more than 40 years and sometimes worked night shifts at Dodger Stadium, according to the bio.
Kathleen Armellin was a student in Gatto's art classes at Granada Hills High School and Pierce College.
"He was my mentor," said Armellin, of Riverside County. "He taught me to love art in a way that I never had known before. He was a brilliant teacher and a wonderful man. He went the extra mile for everyone. This is a huge loss to the art community and people in general."
After he retired, Joseph Gatto worked as a jewelry craftsman. The Rev. James Mott, of Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church, described Joseph Gatto as a "gentle man" who displayed talent as an artist.
"It's a horrible tragedy," Mott said. "I was just shocked. I just hope he didn't suffer.
"He was there almost every morning at Mass, receiving communion, praying. He would have been here at 8 o'clock this morning."
A family friend told NBC4 one of Gatto's daughters is planning a wedding for May.
"This is senseless and brutal," said friend Lauren Wayne. "He won't be there to walk her down the aisle."
The Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide Division, which often handles high-profile cases, is conducting the investigation.
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