When Cheryl Malonson got a call saying police had new information about her brother’s killing, she hoped it meant they had arrested a suspect.

It had been more than five years since her brother, Fred Taft, was gunned down in a public restroom at a Long Beach Park where he was attending a family reunion.

Though she and the rest of Taft’s family didn’t get the answer she was hoping for, police at a press conference Thursday ignited new hope for closure in the case when they announced they had developed new information that could potentially lead to an arrest.

Fred Taft. File photo

Malonson and the rest of her family previously thought Taft, a Black man, had been killed by a white man in his 50s after witnesses told police they had seen someone matching that description running away from the park shortly after the shooting.

But during the press conference, LBPD Chief of Police Wally Hebeish announced that detectives now believe the suspected gunman was a Hispanic man in his 20s who used a blue minivan to flee the scene of the shooting at Pan American Park on July 21, 2018.

Hebeish went on to explain that investigators initially had the wrong suspect description because they were working with limited information. He declined to answer how detectives were able to develop these new leads after five years.

Any potential motive for the shooting has yet to be publicly revealed.

For years, Taft’s family says they have been left mystified about why someone would shoot him. They described him as a loving family man who made everyone he talked to feel important.

(From left to right): Allison Flanagan, Corie Taft, Cheryl Malonson, and Barbara Chambers speak about their relative Fred Taft during a press conference Thursday, Oct. 19. Photo by Maison Tran.

It wasn’t a robbery because police found Taft with his wallet and phone with his body, they said. Authorities say Taft was shot nine times.

That, along with other details including racist graffiti found in the park, led Taft’s family to believe his killing was a hate crime.

After finding out Thursday that police now believe the shooter was Hispanic, Taft’s family said they were “shocked.” But given the circumstances of the killing, they still believe it was racially motivated.

“My brother was everything to us,” Malonson said. “To lose him this way, so violently, it’s heartbreaking.”

With limited suspect information and no motive available, police say they have no way of telling whether Taft was targeted because he was Black.

The investigation is ongoing, police said.

“We believe they’re doing the best they can,” Taft’s family said. “It still hurts and hopefully we’ll get closure.”

The LBPD asked anyone with information about Taft’s murder to contact detectives at 562-570-7244 or submit an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.