'We Just Don't Understand': Family and Friends of Man Killed by FBI Inside Oakland Store Hold Vigil

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Lit candles surround two photographs.
Photos of Michael Jonathan Cortez were placed among candles at a vigil Wednesday in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood. Family members identified Cortez, 31, as the man shot and killed by an FBI agent Monday. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Friends and family of a man shot and killed by an FBI agent this week gathered in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood on Wednesday night to honor his life.

Balloons blew in the wind as around 50 people gathered around candles in front of a garage door on Blossom Street adorned with photos of Michael Jonathan Cortez and lined with flowers. Cortez was 31 years old.

The FBI said in a series of statements this week that the agent was working with the U.S. Marshals to serve an arrest warrant Monday afternoon when the shooting occurred.

The FBI hasn’t said whether the person killed was the subject of the warrant and hasn’t identified the agent who fired. The bureau hasn’t released any details of what led to the shooting, apart from saying that the person who was killed was armed.

Cortez's cousin Alexis Castillo said his family is now connected to the experience he’s seen other people go through who have family members killed by law enforcement.


“They call themselves the law, but act like a gang gunning down my little cousin in broad daylight,” he said.

Jackie Nguyen was also among a group gathered at the vigil. She said Cortez was her boyfriend, and they met in San Francisco when she was 15 years old.

She said she wants to know why Cortez was killed.

“We just don't understand why it was handled the way it was, regardless of the criminal background or history of whatever happened. This is their job to protect us and do things the right way. And they did not do it the right way,” she said.

Mohamed Aldahmi watched the vigil crowd from outside the Upstairs Underground Smoke Shop at the corner of Fruitvale Avenue and Blossom Street, where the shooting took place. Aldahmi was working inside during the shooting. He said Cortez was buying a drink and some snacks at the store when an officer wearing a bulletproof vest came into the store with his gun drawn, yelling, “Get down!”

Aldahmi said he and his 21-year-old cousin Issa, who was visiting him in the shop, ran into a storage area at the back of the store and laid on the ground.

“I just ran to the back to save my life,” he said.

While he was lying on the floor, Aldahmi said, he heard a gunshot. Some time after that he heard police knocking on the door between the cashiers area and the rest of the store telling him to come out. Police took him and his cousin out of the store.

Two people kneel next to a group of lit candles, and one of the people lights a candle.
Marilyn Cortez (center), sister of Michael Jonathan Cortez, lights a candle during a vigil for her brother in Oakland on Wednesday. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Aldahmi said what happened at his shop is upsetting.

“I’m against any shooting or pointing a gun,” he said. “Even if they have a warrant, that's not right at all.”

He also worries about what will happen to his family’s shop and whether customers will stop coming to their store after the shooting.

“We are affected by what the police have done inside our shop, and we didn’t do anything,” he said.

The FBI and Oakland police are investigating the shooting. Oakland officers took Upstairs Underground’s video surveillance system after the shooting.

On Twitter, the Anti Police-Terror Project demanded answers about the shooting and the scope of the FBI’s presence in Oakland.

The shooting was just one of seven that occurred Monday in the Fruitvale neighborhood, according to the Oakland Police Department. On Tuesday, there was another fatal shooting. OPD reports that 94 people have been killed since the start of the year.

Michael Cortez leaves behind three children, four siblings and his mother and father, according to his family.