Lewis, 54, was fatally shot once and died en route to a trauma center in San Mateo, San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer said at an 11:30 a.m. Thursday press briefing at the East Palo Alto Police Department substation. The San Mateo Police Department is in charge of the homicide investigation.
Lewis was a well-known community leader who worked hard to turn wayward lives around, for which he was known nationally. He started the city's drug-rehabilitation Free At Last organization and a highly successful parolee re-entry program. He was shot in the back in a parking area in broad daylight at 5:42 p.m. at Hillsdale Shopping Center, near Mervyn's in the western part of the mall. A black sedan was seen leaving the scene after the shooter fled, she said.
Investigators have processed "a lot of forensic evidence" and have surveillance tapes and eyewitnesses to the shooting, Manheimer said.
"We will pull out all the stops and won't rest" until the suspect or suspects are found, she said.
"Because of his tremendous ties in this community, information provided by the community will help us break this case. Bring us information," Manheimer said.
Manheimer would not confirm nor deny if a specific suspect has been identified. According to sources, police have a suspect, but Manheimer said she did not want to focus on any one person and miss others who might have been involved.
"We have absolutely developed some leads," she said.
"There are some different ideas about this — whether it was a random act of, say, road rage or something with long-term tentacles. Nothing surprises us," she said.
The San Mateo police station "looked like Grand Central Station" and was filled with community leaders and others willing to help police. But police have no idea what Lewis was doing at the mall, she said. "It could be anything as mundane as going shopping. We don't know what precipitated that exchange of words," Manheimer said.
But Manheimer and East Palo Alto police Chief Ronald Davis, a longtime friend of Lewis, said Lewis' work trying to turn people's lives around was sometimes dangerous.
Davis described Lewis as dedicated to his work and fearless. He would approach people who were hanging out on street corners and go to their homes. He met several times with prisoners at San Quentin Prison, Davis said. He said it is not yet known whether the shooting was related to Lewis' work in the community.
"He was doing this work for close to 20 years. It was challenging and dangerous work," Davis said.