UPDATE: 54-year-old man shot to death near PCH; no motive known

A 54-year-old man was shot to death in the neighborhood a few blocks southeast of Long Beach City College’s Pacific Coast Campus Thursday night, authorities say. Police have yet to identify a motive or suspect in the killing.

Officers were first dispatched to the scene in the 1600 block of Stanton Place, near Pacific Coast Highway, at 6:45 p.m., police said in a statement. They found the victim, Joel Vargas, who’d been shot in the upper body, police said. He was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

Vargas lived in the neighborhood, according to neighbors. Detectives believe Vargas was standing near his parked vehicle when he was shot, according to police. Officers found him wounded in the street when they arrived, police said.

Several neighbors said they were alerted to the crime by the large police presence, including the searchlight and sound of a police helicopter hovering above the block.

Resident Daniel Mitchell said he heard four to five gunshots. When he went out for a cigarette and noticed his neighbors standing outside, their building fenced off by police tape, he knew something serious had happened.

Another resident, Eric Tant said he heard several pops but wasn’t sure whether they were gunshots or fireworks.

“It sounded sketchy, but you just never know in this neighborhood,” Tant said. Either way, he added, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise. “It’s unfortunately a common occurrence around here.”

Shootings have been more common across Long Beach in general recently. During the end of last year and the beginning of this year, gun violence reached levels not seen in the last five years, according to data from police.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with more information from police and neighbors.

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Alena Maschke writes about all things business and beyond for the Long Beach Business Journal/Long Beach Post. Born and raised in Germany, she first fell in love with California during an exchange year at UCLA. After receiving her master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2017, she returned to the Golden State with an appetite for great stories, pupusas and the occasional Michelada.