College student, Eagle Scout David Pimentel paid the ultimate price, just for standing on a Pleasant Grove street corner one night.
Gail Pimentel says she knows her son David had forgiven his murderer before his body hit the ground.
“That’s what I would tell them if I could talk to them,” she says of the killers. “And I would tell them that I am not that big a person. I am not as forgiving as him. You took the only thing that was truly good in my life. That is what I would say.”
She also wants to tell people things she probably shouldn’t need to say — that David’s life mattered and that he didn’t deserve to die.
“People want to know why he was there, in that part of town. They think he was on drugs and got himself killed,” she says. “The truth is he was visiting a friend, a friend who’d been his classmate at Bishop Lynch. They’d been to the gym and played basketball and had just finished dinner with his [friend’s] family. No, he was not on drugs. He was good. The best person I’ve ever known.”
For David, hanging out with friends and their families was typical. People loved being around him and he enjoyed many close relationships, recalls his former teacher Pat Thompson, who also oversaw David’s Boy Scout troop.
“He and that group of boys from scouts were always together,” she says. “David always had a smile on his face. He was selfless — would help anybody.” Thompson also sponsored David as he worked to become an Eagle Scout. Completing the compulsory Eagle Scout service project is no small feat, she says. David was the rare strong, smart and focused type of teenager who could pull it off.
His death at age 22 was something no one could have anticipated, she says.
“We were neighbors, too. The night he died, Gail showed up on my doorstep, holding their little dog. I was dumbfounded.”
Life cut short
David Pimentel grew up in a house across the street from Wallace Elementary School, where he and his buddies often shot hoops. He started school in East Dallas at St. Bernard’s before transferring to St. Patrick Catholic School in Lake Highlands, where he joined Boy Scout Troop 719. He excelled on the soccer team at Bishop Lynch High School, where he graduated in 2010. He was fast, a natural athlete. He was quiet and a good listener, his friends say, quick-witted, always ready with a joke or quip, but never at the expense of another’s feelings.
“David was a true friend who never spoke anything but kind words and loved to laugh,” his friend, Nick Bedenkop, told an overflowing crowd at David’s funeral.
Before his death, David was earning a double major in finance and accounting at University of Texas at Dallas, while working fulltime as a supervisor at Kohl’s department store.
In her grief support group, Gail learned about the stigma attached to murder, she says. It’s like this: People have a fundamental need to believe that if we follow certain rules, bad things will not happen, and, so, when some one is murdered, it is because the victim did something wrong.
“You know, wrong place, wrong time, bad neighborhood, they say. Even the police — I feel like the police don’t give a, you know what. I had raised him not to go [to that part of Pleasant Grove] due to the danger, but he loved the De La Pax family, and they treated him as their own.”
It happened at 9:30 p.m. July 28, 2014 outside the family home of Charber De La Pax. David and Charber were standing at the corner of Utica Drive and Tillman Street, just 100-feet from the De La Pax’s front door, when a car slowed as it passed.
Detective Tim Stewart, the 30-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department who is investigating the case, says he wishes the boys had taken notice of that car and gone inside.
“You see a car roll slowly by in that neighborhood, you have to pay attention. They didn’t.”
Moments later, the car returned, two men emerged, at least one of them brandishing a gun.
“It was dark, so all our witness saw was two black men, one tall, the other kind of short,” Stewart says.
They demanded wallets and phones. David handed his property over promptly. Charber had nothing to give. In a second, the armed robbers and the victims were fleeing their separate ways, but Charber began hollering at his father to help, to call 9-1-1, Stewart recounts.
Stewart guesses the thieves didn’t like that, and one opened fire, probably not intending to kill.
“If they had meant to shoot them, they would have. This was a fluke shot. It hit the street and fragmented. The bullet hit Pimentel in the back, and the jacket hit the other kid in the leg.”
The suspects ran and hopped in the vehicle, a white, four-door sedan, according to Charber De La Pax’s testimony.
Early on, Stewart says he followed a few leads. Detectives located what they believed to be the getaway car; it was involved in a crime at NorthPark Center earlier on the same day David was killed. Detectives brought the owner, a woman, in for questioning, but she refused to talk.
“Do I believe she knows something? Yes,” Stewart says. But there is this code of silence in high-crime neighborhoods.
“Sometimes someone who gets jammed up will tell something they know [in exchange for leniency], but seldom does anyone just snitch. That is still looked down upon in these neighborhoods.” At that point, Stewart says, the case hit a dead end.
There was no evidence that the woman was in the vehicle and at the crime scene. Aside from a fractured bullet and a casing, police have no forensics to lead them to a suspect.
“The case is open, not considered a cold case yet, because I have not given up on it,” Stewart says. But he is frank about the prospect of finding a killer a year and a half after the crime — not good.
High- versus low-profile murder
A friend of Gail Pimentel contacted the Advocate shortly after police arrested the suspected killer of 18-year-old Lake Highlands resident Zoe Hastings last October.
She believed telling David’s story might help police find his killer. “Very little press coverage has been given to the Pimentel case,” she says.
David’s murder was reported only in the Dallas Morning News, sharing a single column with another southern Dallas shooting.
The story of Zoe Hastings, who was abducted and murdered in the White Rock area, dominated headlines, TV broadcasts and social media feeds for two solid weeks as five detectives and an entire city searched for her killer and raised tens of thousands of dollars to support her family, which includes four siblings.
Grieving mother Gail Pimentel does not begrudge them. She feels only sorrow and empathy for parents who have suffered the loss of a child.
But she is very angry, she says — at the scum who killed her son, at the police who haven’t tracked him down, at a city that fails to fix South Dallas’ crime problem, at gossipy parents who implied David provoked his own death and the fact that his murder received so little attention.
Stewart says publicity doesn’t help as much as you might think.
“Yes, you get a ton of tips coming in, which is, by the way, why you have to bring in extra detectives, because you have to follow up on every tip, but it is not usually a tip that solves a case. Hardly ever, in my experience,” says Stewart.
In the Zoe Hastings case, he explains, detectives had solid DNA evidence to work from. That is how they caught the Hastings suspect, he says.
“I’m not saying it can’t help. We want public help, we follow up on all leads, in few cases it does lead to an arrest,” he says. And there is reward money available for information leading to an arrest in the Pimentel case, he adds.
Finding closure in a cold case
A murder of a young woman in our neighborhood captured more public attention than that of a young man in South Dallas. But the pain felt by a parent who loses a child is limitless, no matter the circumstances.
Gail Pimentel’s Lake Highlands home is crowded. She calls her hoarding tendencies “my pathos.” But there is an order to the wood-carved statues of saints and angels, stacks of books (one called “God is in the tough stuff” is stacked near a vintage Nancy Drew mystery), children’s toys and sprawling colorfully painted canvasses. She has cut a careful path through the middle of everything, to her bedroom, where an urn containing David’s ashes rests on a bedside table, surrounded by pictures of the handsome, smiling, glowing child.
If David’s case goes unsolved, Gail is left to live alone, without her only child and with no one at whom to direct her rage. She and David’s father divorced when David was little, and, she says, they do not speak much. She knows she needs to keep living, keep fighting, but how?
She has her faithful dog, Reeses, who is always at her side, inching closer to her anytime she seems upset.
“David loved this dog; this dog loved David,” she says.
She bounces from anger to wistful memories as she talks, sometimes through tears, about her son — how they would watch the skyline over White Rock Lake on the way to school, and discuss the weather; how every year before his birthday they would talk about the worst and best moments of the past year; how he wanted to earn a master’s degree and teach sports to his own kids someday.
She goes as often as she can — maybe once a month — to the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas sessions at Wilshire Baptist Church. She has a few good, supportive friends. She is an artist, and finds some catharsis in creation.
On a piece of paper, she has written down a Shelly Winters quote. She hands it over and says she likes to jot down quotes that describe how she feels.
“Life, even with its misery, is still life,” it reads. “You must relish and fight through its pain and conquer it, grow, and then joy will come again.”