Police arrest suspect in killing of Cathedral Catholic teacher in North Park
Police said they arrested Jesse M. Alvarez, 30, at a Serra Mesa home on Monday night
Homicide detectives on Monday night, Feb. 1, arrested the man suspected of gunning down a beloved Cathedral Catholic High School teacher and football coach earlier in the day in North Park, police said.
Detectives arrested 30-year-old Jesse Milton Alvarez in a Serra Mesa home on suspicion of murdering 37-year-old Mario Fierro, according to San Diego police homicide Lt. Andra Brown. Alvarez is the ex-boyfriend of Fierro’s fiancée, who also is a teacher at Cathedral Catholic.
Police said Fierro was shot around 7:10 a.m. Monday on the sidewalk of Kansas Street near Monroe Avenue. Officers performed CPR on Fierro until medics arrived but he died before he could be taken to a hospital.
Investigators did not release a suspected motive in the slaying, but court records showed that Alvarez’s three-year relationship with the woman who later became Fierro’s fiancée had ended under strain.
On New Year’s Eve 2019, the woman was granted a temporary restraining order against Alvarez, citing his repeated attempts to contact her after their September 2019 breakup. When they dated, she said, he displayed a pattern of increasing “control, manipulation and emotional abuse” that included telling her what she should eat or drink.
In a five-page affidavit, she wrote that in the four months following the breakup, Alvarez’s behavior had grown “erratic and escalated over time,” and included threats of suicide.
She said he repeatedly tried to contact her, begging her to restart the relationship, and he cyberstalked her using his mother’s social media account. She said she ran into him at California Adventure, a Disney theme park in Anaheim, where he followed her and pressed her to talk privately.
The woman said in court documents that she changed her front door lock and bought a security camera — which caught footage of Alvarez, in a hoodie and sunglasses, trying to get into her apartment using what she suspected was an old key. She called police.
“I’m worried about what might happen if Jesse escalates,” she told the officer who responded to the September 2019 incident.
In her request for a restraining order, the woman said she moved because she was afraid of Alvarez.
“I need this protective order for my safety and security or because I am extremely afraid he will harm me,” she wrote in her request.
Alvarez answered with a 13-page response. He denied each allegation and gave detailed explanations about his conduct, saying she had mischaracterized or lied about the events.
He wrote in his response that it was “preposterous” that his former girlfriend claimed their relationship was “characterized by abuse.” He also said there was “no credible basis of threat towards her.”
At a hearing three weeks later, when a judge considered whether to grant a permanent restraining order, Alvarez said he would leave his ex-girlfriend alone.
Notes in the court file from the Jan. 22, 2020 hearing state that Superior Court Judge Daniel Belsky found both of them credible, and found Alvarez to be “very sincere.” The judge said emotions were running high, and that it had taken Alvarez “time to process and realize that the relationship was over.” Belsky dismissed the case.
In December, the school’s Instagram and Facebook pages announced the engagement of Fierro and his fiancée, accompanied by a photograph of the smiling couple posing at the beach, with her hand on his chest showing off the engagement ring.
Fierro taught social studies at Cathedral Catholic, where he had worked since 2016 in what amounted to a homecoming for the 2002 graduate of University of San Diego High School. The school was renamed Cathedral Catholic in 2005 when it transitioned from its Linda Vista location to its new campus in Carmel Valley.
“He was a gifted teacher and a great human being,” said Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, in a statement. School officials canceled classes for three days after learning of Fierro’s death.
Outside of the classroom, Fierro was tapped to become head JV football coach while also keeping his job as the special teams coach for the varsity squad.
Fierro also served as the Athletic Director at Notre Dame Academy, a private Catholic school with preschool through middle school classes, that serves as a feeder school to Cathedral Catholic.
Many who knew Fierro gathered Monday night for a rosary and candlelight vigil at St. Therese of Carmel in Carmel Valley. Former students also took to social media to share photos and stories about the beloved mentor, coach, and teacher.
Karly King, who graduated in 2019 and is attending college in Indiana, said Fierro was one of the most respected and well known faces around the high school campus. “Coach Fierro was a humble yet radiant soul and never walked past anyone without giving them a smile,” she wrote.
Matt Surprenant, a 2019 graduate who played football at Cathedral, said Fierro was “more than a coach, he was a friend and a part of my family.”
Another 2019 graduate and football player, Donovan Fitch, recalled Fierro as a smart coach who could guess what plays the other team was going to run based on their formation. He said Fierro told players that “focus was a man’s greatest strength and that the team who focused the most, would be victorious.”
The Larry Himmel Neighborhood Foundation — a charity named after the late San Diego humorist Larry Himmel — set up a fund to raise money for Fierro’s funeral.
— Alex Riggins, Karen Kucher and Teri Figueroa are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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