Family and friends celebrated the life of slain artist Joseph Gatto at a service Monday in Los Feliz, remembering the 78-year-old as a vibrant, passionate man who doted on his two young granddaughters and inspired students.
Gatto was killed nearly two weeks ago in his Silver Lake home. The father of local Assemblyman Mike Gatto, the elder Gatto died of a gunshot wound to the stomach, police say. No arrests have been made in the case.
As a November sun warmed the chilly morning, hundreds of mourners filed into Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church on Los Feliz Boulevard. Gatto is survived by two daughters, a son and three grandchildren, including one in college.
Struggling to fight back tears, the assemblyman said his father had been taken too soon. His sister, Mariann, will be married next spring, and Joseph had planned to walk his daughter down the aisle. "Our hearts are broken," Mike Gatto said. "We are struggling mightily to understand the dark nature of some human souls."
The Mass was delivered by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, who told the congregation that while Gatto is missed, "we have the joy that he is living forever."
Sketching a portrait of man who led a full and varied life, Mike Gatto joked about his father's Depression-era values. When Joseph would visit him up in Sacramento, he would pluck oranges off the nearby trees. He even made alcohol from old fruit, the son recollected.
Mariann recalled her father's love of hummingbirds and the purple-orange Los Angeles sunsets that inspired his artwork.
She had dinner with her father every Wednesday night, she recalled. "His light will never be extinguished," she told the congregation.
Gatto was a longtime teacher at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and former students flocked to Monday's service. In recent days, many replaced their Facebook homepage photo with an image of Gatto, Mariann said.
In an emotional moment, Mike Gatto asked all his father's former students to stand. Nearly 100 people rose from the pews, witnesses said.
Speaking after the service, former student Jesus Chaidez, 30, said Gatto was a tough but inspiring teacher. Gatto would hand out new notepads only when a student's old notebook was filled, and he would spend time checking each page to ensure there was artwork.
"He pushed us, and he cared," Chaidez said.
Artist Kent Twitchell, who recently featured Gatto in one of his murals, was listed as one of the honorary pallbearers on the program guide.
Numerous politicians were in attendance, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Congressmembers Janice Hahn and Brad Sherman, California State Assembly Speaker John Perez and several Los Angeles City Council members.
City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the harbor area, urged anyone with information about Gatto's shooting to come forward.
"We need to provide closure for the family and for the many he so loved ... our message today is to let the community know -- please come forward," Buscaino told reporters. ___