The East Palo Alto community was reeling Monday at news that police had arrested Gregory Elarms, 58, of Pittsburg, Calif., in the fatal June 9 shooting of community leader David Lewis.
Elarms and Lewis had grown up together in the Gardens neighborhood of East Palo Alto and had remained friends, those who knew both men said Monday.
"People in the community are surprised, like another punch in the stomach," Lewis' stepdaughter Tiffany Sutton said. "It's breath-taking almost."
"Greg was not David's enemy," said Leaharay Boyd, who knew both Lewis and Elarms.
Elarms contacted the San Mateo police early this past weekend, saying he had further information about who killed Lewis, San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer said at a press conference Monday afternoon. After talking with Elarms, detectives believed him to be Lewis' killer and arrested him Sunday.
"I don't know what could have precipitated this," said Vicki Smothers, vice-president and co-founder of Free At Last, a nonprofit Lewis had co-founded that provides services including substance-abuse treatment and transitional housing.
"Greg was there (in East Palo Alto): grade school, high school, street school. We all did it together," she said.
"I didn't believe it," Smothers said of when she heard the news Sunday. "It was a shock. It's kind of like you lost two people."
Lewis, 54, was an internationally known leading figure in drug rehabilitation and the re-integration of parolees into society. Up until Sunday, all that was known publicly about his death was that he had been fatally shot after an altercation in the parking garage at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo. His death shocked the East Palo Alto community, where he was an influential figure.
Elarms has an "extensive" criminal record that dates back to 1969, Manheimer said. However, Smothers said that he had straightened up his life in the past 15 years.
On the day Lewis was shot, Elarms allegedly saw Lewis in the parking lot of the San Mateo Medical Center. He followed Lewis a half mile to Hillsdale Shopping Center, where the two men "exchanged words," Manheimer said. It was then that Elarms allegedly shot Lewis to death.
The investigation is ongoing and active, Manheimer said.
Manheimer would not disclose whether Elarms has confessed to the shooting but said the police do not think anyone else was involved.
The police impounded a vehicle they believe is associated with the case.
After living in East Palo Alto, Elarms may have also lived in San Jose, according to Intelius.com.
San Mateo police worked the case for more than six months. They periodically held press conferences with the East Palo Alto police department to ask the community for information leading to the arrest of Lewis' killer or killers. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Lewis' killer.
Lewis' family members rejoiced over the arrest on Monday afternoon.
"I am so happy. This is the best Christmas present I could've gotten. This community has suffered. I will be so happy to see somebody pay for this senseless act," Jennifer Jackson, aunt to Lewis' youngest child, Zachary, said.
"It has been a painful experience for this community. The loss was felt every day. He was a real pioneer. You will still see David's picture on the fence by the freeway at University Avenue. It reminds you of a good man lost," she said.
Lewis' family was notified of the arrest on Sunday, she said.
Pamela Hall, Zachary's mother, said her son, who is 20, is a private person who doesn't share his feelings much with his mother. But the death of his father and the arrest of his alleged killer has surely caused many emotions in Lewis' son, she said.
"He's not had an easy time of it. He's had a terrible blow. Losing (Lewis) has had a terrific effect on this family. I don't think there will ever be any real healing for us," she said.
The arrest closes one set of questions and ignites many others, she said.
"Now I've got to go through another range of emotions. I'm kind of dumbfounded about it. Everybody's got a zillion questions, who and why. I'm grateful they found somebody and it did happen in a timely manner. I don't think they stalled on it," she said.
Lewis' mother, Cora, said she "feels rejoice" over the arrest. "Justice has been served. It's very hard. I'm just 'here' right now," she said.
But Smothers said the news must be "devastating" to Elarms' family.
"They're a very close family. This is just very, very painful."