Jesse Alexis Chavez’s nickname was “Mr. Latinbear.” He was a big, lovable guy who liked to hold his mother’s hand in public and dress as Santa Claus every winter at the Prince George’s County hotel where he worked. He was also protective, often confronting disruptive customers who harassed other bar patrons or employees.
So it came as no surprise to Chavez’s family that he ran to the aid of a screaming co-worker when a gunman demanded cash Monday night.
But it was a shock when they learned that Chavez, 27, was fatally shot. Chavez died trying to stop the armed robber from fleeing the hotel, county police said.
“He knew right from wrong, and when he knew what was right, he would stand by it,” said his younger sister, Vivian Chavez. “You can definitely tell by the way he went out.”
The incident began shortly after 10 p.m., when a man with a handgun walked into the lobby of the Clarion Hotel on Oxon Hill Road, near the Capital Beltway and Indian Head Highway, county police said.
Video surveillance released by authorities shows the man, wearing a dark hoodie, jumping over the front desk and telling a 22-year-old employee to open a cash register, police said. The man then jumped back over the desk with the gun in his right hand, the video shows.
On the way out the door, the robber found Chavez between him and a getaway car. The men struggled, police said, and Chavez was shot outside the hotel. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said the shooter fled in a dark-colored sedan, possibly a four-door Toyota. They said it was unclear whether there was a getaway driver.
Deputy Police Chief Hank Stawinski called the crime “truly outrageous” and the gunman an “arrogant criminal.”
Police hope the surveillance video will result in a quick arrest of the gunman because the video clearly shows his face. “We’re definitely optimistic that that is what is going to lead to us catching this individual,” Capt. George Nichols said.
Nichols called Chavez’s actions “very heroic.”
“He heard a lady screaming for help, and he came out to intervene,” Nichols said.
On Tuesday morning, the Rev. Raymond C. Bell of Spirit of Love and Deliverance (SOLAD) Baptist Church was at the Clarion to offer condolences to the hotel’s staff and support for the victim’s family. Bell has held Sunday morning services in the hotel’s meeting rooms for a little more than a year.
“It’s shocking,” Bell said. “We’ve never had any trouble with security. It’s a quiet but thriving hotel.”
Bell said that Chavez and other employees at the hotel were always friendly.
“We’re so sorry to see someone would have to lose their life at work,” Bell said.
Chavez lived in Fort Washington with his parents and sister. He was a restaurant manager at the hotel on and off for about nine years. Ever the vigilant supervisor, he monitored the hotel bar, where customers would sometimes harass Chavez’s staff, Vivian Chavez said.
“If he knew that the customer was wrong, he wasn’t afraid to tell them: ‘You know what? Get out, because you’re not treating my staff right,’ ” Vivian Chavez said.
The victim’s relatives were struggling to cope with the news Tuesday. More than a dozen gathered at his family’s modest home before driving in a convoy to the hotel, where they prayed for him at the scene of his death.
Chavez’s mother, also named Vivian, said her son was outgoing, happy and playful. A huge Washington Redskins fan, he took his mother to a game last weekend for her birthday as a surprise.
Chavez’s Facebook profile photo shows him and his mother posing in matching Redskins jerseys. Her’s read “Mamacita”; his said “Mr. Latinbear”.
“He loved being who he was — a big, old teddy bear,” said Chavez’s mother, who was wearing her son’s Redskins jersey Tuesday. “That’s why his name was Latinbear.”
Police have issued a reward of up to $25,000 for any information leading to the arrest of Chavez’s killer and asking anyone with information to call 1-866-411-TIPS.
“He was very loving,” his mother said. “He would never allow someone to get hurt without him intervening. And I guess that’s what got him where he’s at now.”
Dana Hedgpeth and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.