Oak Harbor rocked by murder: Police apprehend suspect in Bellingham

Chris Baker’s home in Rolling Hills was filled with both tears and laughter Monday night. Family and friends sat round the dining table and shared memories of Baker’s grandson, Adam Garcia. The 21-year-old Oak Harbor man was killed in a shooting early Saturday morning in the city.

Shooting victim Adam Garcia is shown holding his daughter

Chris Baker’s home in Rolling Hills was filled with both tears and laughter Monday night.

Family and friends sat round the dining table and shared memories of Baker’s grandson, Adam Garcia. The 21-year-old Oak Harbor man was killed in a shooting early Saturday morning in the city.

Garcia was a loyal son and friend. A peacemaker and protector. A trickster.

His mother, Bettie Sifuentes, said her son’s true character was most evident when he was with his beloved daughter, 5-year-old Sophia.

“You could just see the love on his face when he looks at her,” she said. “It was so genuine.”

A team of law enforcement officials took the shooting suspect, Christopher Malaga, into custody in Bellingham at 12:47 p.m. Tuesday. He’s being held in Island County jail on a $1-million arrest warrant.

Chief Ed Green with the Oak Harbor Police Department said officers responded to a 9-1-1 call of a shooting at the intersection of Southwest Fairhaven Drive and Southwest Castilian Drive at 3:15 a.m. Saturday.

Garcia had been shot in the face and died at the scene after officers arrived. Witnesses helped police identify the shooter as Malaga; they said he shot Garcia during a confrontation, according to Green.

The chief said the Western Washington University Police, the Bellingham Police Department, the Snohomish County Violent Offender Task Force, the State Patrol, the Whatcom County Sheriff and the U.S. Marshals Office helped with the apprehension of the suspect.

While the criminal case moves forward, Garcia’s many family and friends are focusing on their memories of the young man.

On Friday, a football jersey will be presented to Sifuentes just before the 5 p.m. start of the Coupeville homecoming game.

In high school, Garcia was No. 33 on the team.

The family moved from Yakima to Whidbey Island in 2000, Sifuentes said. Garcia, who was known in his family as “Bato,” attended Coupeville schools and played a lot of sports; he particularly loved football. He was a running back and middle linebacker.

Jay Silver, former football coach for Coupeville, remembered Garcia as a hard worker and positive presence on the team.

“He was always very respectful and, many times, spoke to me about his baby girl,” he said. “Even as a senior in high school he was ready and willing to step up and do everything he could to support his daughter.”

“Of all the mistakes he may have made in school or other areas of his life, his little girl was not one of them,” Silver said. “It was very evident to anyone that knew him that he loved her deeply.”

Former teammate Mike Churchill was also Garcia’s close friend. He told of his and Garcia’s teenage shenanigans. They were hanging out in Langley one night, for example, with another friend and decided it would be a good idea to do some roof jumping.

Garcia thought he saw the police and took off running into the dark and ran into a chain, ripping it out of the posts.

“He ran full speed into it,” Churchill said with a laugh. “He had a bruise across his thighs for weeks.”

Garcia’s uncle, Michael Pelzer, compared his nephew to Seahawks great Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch, he said, might seem like a tough guy to the casual observer, but he’s really a community-minded person with a heart of gold. Likewise, Garcia dressed in hoodies and loose pants and may have had a hard exterior sometimes, but he had a kind, generous heart.

“He was definitely not a ‘gangsta,’” he said.

“He was a big Teddy bear, but he wouldn’t show it,” agreed his aunt, Michelle Armstrong.

“He was a person who went to the beat of his own drummer,” Churchill said. “He was a very determined person.”

“Nothing would hold him back if he wanted to do it.”

In fact, Garcia hated bullying and stood up for a friend who was targeted at school. He also borrowed money from his grandma to give to homeless people.

He loved holidays, said his family. He had pumpkin carving contests with Pelzer.

Baker said he managed to sneak into her house one December night and put up a large Christmas tree and decorated it without waking her up.

Everyone agreed that Garcia was a good son and very protective, though he had a wicked sense of humor at times. Sifuentes said he once jokingly said he planned to stuff her and put her by the front door after she died.

“My son came home every night,” she said. “When he left, he always said, ‘I love you and I’ll be back.’”

Sifuentes said she was on her way to Seattle Saturday when she learned that Garcia hadn’t returned as expected. After four hours of confusion, she got the news no mother wants to hear.

“We will get justice,” she said. “We will get answers.”

 

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