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Vigil held for beloved Marine, flag football coach killed in unprovoked shooting at Twentynine Palms park

We now know the identity of the person who was killed in an unprovoked shooting at a Twentynine Palms park earlier this week. 

Officials with Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station have identified the victim as 35-year-old, Robert James McDonald, a Marine Gunnery Sergeant and beloved flag football coach.

"I can't shake his hand. I can't say good. Good job. I can't give him his championship ring that he just earned, what, a month ago? He just earned a championship ring with the High Desert Panthers in the top-tier flag football league," said Shaka Gray, founder of the High Desert 29ers.

Staff Sgt. Victoria Ross, spokesperson with the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, confirmed McDonald served as a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant in Twentynine Palms. 

News Channel 3 first shared this story Tuesday when we reported that a homicide investigation was underway after an 18-year-old fatally shot a man in Twentynine Palms

The incident all started Monday evening when Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a group of about five people who were causing a disturbance near Alpine Avenue and Old Dale Road.  Moments later a resident approached the group sparking a confrontation. That’s when the suspect, 18-year-old Rudy Garcia Jr., fired at the resident who was not hit by gunfire. 

Garcia then ran to the area of Knott Sky Park about a quarter mile away. There he approached a parked car that was occupied by 35-year-old Robert James McDonald and his dog.  Without any reported motive Garcia shot into the car, injuring McDonald who then attempted to drive away.  

In his attempt to flee, McDonald crashed into another occupied vehicle. McDonald was pronounced dead at the scene and the people in the parked car sustained minor injuries. 

Staff Sgt. Ross also added in a statement to News Channel 3:

 The command is grieving with the family and fellow Marines of the deceased and is working diligently to provide them with much-needed support during this difficult time.

- Staff Sgt. Ross, Public Affairs Chief, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms

Steven Zamora, who owns the High Desert Panthers flag football team says Sgt. Mcdonald was a role model for many of the younger players.

"But some of them did look up to him as a father figure because he was trying to tell them what to do and what was wrong and right," Zamora said.

Even city leaders including former Marine and Mayor Steven Bilderain recognized McDonald’s impact.

"When service members get stationed here. They normally stay on base and do their duty and serve our country. But did you see with the people out here, he's made an impact. Just a short time. Is here with our community. So this is volumes about the man and the person he was," Bilderain said.

His fellow marines also out in full force, commemorating his legacy. 

"Very loving, father for his kids. just very good, genuine person," said Marine Master Sgt. Jesus Hernandez.

Although those closest to McDonald are still processing his loss — they’re committed to carrying his legacy. 

"We're going to do everything that he told us to do on and off the field, and we're also going to pass it on to our younger generations so they can keep it going as well," Zamora said.

It was evident that McDonald was committed to service and community. 

"We lost a great man. Tragic. I hope there's some light at the end of this tunnel. As of right now, we're going to walk in darkness and respect him and honor him and celebrate his life as much as we can," Bilderain said.

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Bianca Ventura

Bianca Ventura joined KESQ News Channel 3 as a reporter in February 2022.


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