Family holds vigil for victim of South Congress stabbing attack

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Family of the kitchen manager who died in a stabbing attack in south Austin held a vigil Sunday evening in his honor.

Photo of John Aguilar from his family.

Family members of the man who died confirmed his identity as Johnathan Aguilar, a 34-year-old kitchen manager at Freebirds World Burrito.

Remembering Johnathan

Dozens of family and friends gathered near an East Austin home where Aguilar’s family lives to honor his life on Sunday. Many people held candles and shed tears as they remembered Aguilar. The group prayed and released balloons into the night sky in his honor.

Esteban Aguilar Jr., Aguilar’s uncle, had traveled to Austin to grieve with the rest of their large, extended family. Aguilar Jr. explained that their family has had roots in Austin for more than a century.

“That’s why we’re always so close, we’re always together,” Aguilar Jr. said.

Aguilar Jr. described his nephew as a quiet, gentle soul who loved hard rock music.

“He was a kid who went to work, went home, took care of his son and his wife,” Aguilar Jr. said of his nephew. “A good kid, you know.”

Aguilar Jr., who had a career in law enforcement, says he is awaiting more information from the police investigation into this case.

“I’m just knowing that it will come out at the end, you know,” he said.

Friends and family gather at a vigil in East Austin to mourn the life of Johnathan Aguilar. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

For the time being, he said, the family will spend time together and continue sharing their memories of Aguilar.

“It is what it is,” Aguilar Jr. said. “We’re going to go on, but remember [Johnathan], that’s what we have to do.”

Joshua Najera, the boyfriend of Aguilar’s sister, explained that Aguilar had become a dear friend of his over the past few years. Najera said they all were scheduled to hang out later on the day that Aguilar was killed.

“He was kind, loving, wonderful smile,” Najera said of Aguilar, tearing up at the prospect of going back to Aguilar’s place again without him there.

“It will be really hard just going over there and just being reminded of him,” Najera said through tears, “because damn he was a great person. He would have been my brother-in-law, I love him.”

The attack

According to the family, Aguilar was opening the store when the suspect entered. They say he was there with another manager.

Police confirmed Saturday that the suspect that killed him and injured another man is homeless.

On Saturday morning, the restaurant was shut with a sign in the window reading, “This location is temporarily closed. Our thoughts are with our Tribe and their family members.”

The restaurant at the center of the incident remains closed, at last report.

Scene of a deadly stabbing on South Congress Avenue Jan. 3, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)

Police described the attack on Friday morning as “completely random.”

They say the suspect assaulted a customer at a coffee shop “for no apparent reason,” then ran to a nearby restaurant where he stabbed two people, before climbing up and jumping off the roof of the building.

APD says the suspect, who is 27 years old, is in the hospital due to injuries from jumping off the roof. Police said he remains in critical condition Friday evening, after sustaining life-threatening injuries.

Sgt. David Daniels with APD said the suspect ran from Bennu Coffee on Congress Avenue, where he injured one person and caused the initial call at 7:49 a.m. Police said in a press release Friday night that the suspect had “assaulted another patron for no apparent reason.” During the struggle to arrest the suspect, he was able to break free and ran from the business, police said.

A witness at the coffee shop, Stacy Romine, said the suspect hit an elderly man in the back of the head with an object. The witness said the elderly man was sitting with his wife, completely unaware of what was about to happen, and had his back to the suspect.

“I feel like everybody immediately responded because they saw this man being assaulted,” Romine said, noting she’d never seen the suspect before at the coffee shop. “My reaction — I think I probably screamed and said to stop him. Someone on his laptop, another gentleman, jumped on top of him. People are trying to stop him — even a police officer came through the door. And there’s four men trying to, like, hold this guy down and couldn’t keep him apprehended and he ran toward the door.”

Meanwhile, the suspect ran into Freebirds, then stabbed two people inside, Daniels said. One of those victims, a man in his 20s, was pronounced dead when medics found him. The other victim was taken to the hospital after ATCEMS performed CPR on-scene. Austin police reported Friday evening that he was in stable but serious condition.

The suspect made it out of Freebirds, and then climbed to the roof of a nearby business.

A KXAN viewer shared the below video near the scene, showing police in the area. The suspect is seen climbing up a building, and then taking his shirt off.

“It looked like he came out of Freebirds,” the viewer said. “Then he ran down the area between the building and the creek area, he then climbed a ladder laying against the building. He jumped from that ladder to the ladder attached to the building.” The viewer said as the police officer got closer to him, the man tried to push the construction ladder over.

Daniels said then the suspect jumped off the roof and was hurt. Daniels said the suspect is still alive and was taken to the hospital.

Brice Bowden, a friend and coworker of Aguilar’s, says that he worked with him from 2008 to 2016.

“John was a beautiful, kind and loving soul,” said Bowden.

Bowden said Aguilar had a child. He says that the restaurant has two doors that employees often left unlocked, as they didn’t expect anything to happen. He says he believes the restaurant’s general manager was also stabbed, but isn’t sure.

KXAN is not naming other victims because police have not confirmed their identities.

Freebirds World Burrito CEO Alex Eagle sent a statement saying, in part, the restaurant is closed until further notice.

Freebirds World Burrito is cooperating with authorities who are investigating the incident that took place at our South Congress location. Our thoughts are with our Tribe members and their families who have been affected by this tragedy. The location will remain closed until further notice and we ask for respect of our Tribe members’ privacy during this difficult time.

Alex Eagle, Freebirds World Burrito CEO
  • Scene of a deadly stabbing on South Congress Avenue Jan. 3, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Alex Hoder)
  • Scene of a deadly stabbing on South Congress Avenue Jan. 3, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Alex Hoder)
  • Scene of a deadly stabbing on South Congress Avenue Jan. 3, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Alex Hoder)
  • Scene of a deadly stabbing on South Congress Avenue Jan. 3, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Alex Hoder)

Bennu Coffee sent a statement Friday afternoon about the “tragic incident” and thanked everyone for their concern about those involved. It said its South Congress location will be closed at least through the rest of the day.

We are heartbroken about the injuries to innocent people and the loss of life and are fully cooperating with authorities. Our number one priority is the safety of our customers and employees.

Bennu Coffee statement

In a tweet on Friday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said:

“When all facts are revealed, I bet you’ll learn that the killer was a homeless man with prior arrests. If so, Austin’s reckless homeless policy puts lives in danger to murders like this. Austin leaders must answer for their perilous policies.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler delivered his condolences on Twitter Friday night.

Adler also told KXAN Investigator Kevin Clark over the phone that Gov. Abbott’s tweet was “incorrect, misleading and wrong.”

He went on to add, “To equate experiencing homelessness with being a criminal is incorrect.”

In another tweet on Saturday, Gov. Abbott insisted he was “not attacking homelessness.”

He added, “I’m criticizing the lawlessness promoted by the City of Austin.

“The City’s top job is public safety and they are failing. Yesterday’s tragic murder is the most recent example.”

Police are asking anyone with video or information about this incident to call Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS or email homicide.apd@austintexas.gov. You may remain anonymous.

The crime is the first homicide in Austin of 2020.

Stabbings in Austin

In February 2019, a KXAN investigation analyzed stabbing crimes in Austin. At that time, Austin had 12 deadly stabbings since 2016, including the first two homicides of 2019. KXAN is working to get updated official numbers from this past year from APD, but KXAN’s records indicate there were 3 fatal stabbings in 2019. KXAN is also following up with Austin police, who at the time did not separately monitor stabbings.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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