SF Artist Known as Bubbles Shot Dead
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An LGBT artist known as Bubbles is being mourned after he was fatally shot in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood last weekend.
Bubbles, whose name was Anthony Torres, reportedly got into an altercation with someone from the New Century Theater strip club at 2:50 a.m. Saturday, September 9 and was shot several times.
Torres, 44, was well known in the Tenderloin and other communities for his love of music, dancing, and handing out free snow cones and cotton candy near the area where he was killed Saturday, as well as for wearing big blond wigs and skimpy women's clothing.
According to police scanner activity that was recorded just after the shooting, someone reported that the incident had "spilled out from the New Century," which is at 816 Larkin Street. "The suspect then chased the victim across the street, where he fell to the ground. The suspect then stood over him, fired the three rounds, and took off southbound."
Officer Robert Rueca, a police spokesman, said in an interview Tuesday that no arrests had been made, but police "are doing all we can."
Rueca couldn't share many details about the shooting, including what led up to it, and he couldn't comment on whether a person of interest had been identified.
"It's still an ongoing and active investigation," he said. "... We definitely want to get to an arrest, a very solid arrest with good evidence."
Asked about whether Torres' death was being investigated as a hate crime, Rueca said, "At this time we don't have evidence" that's what it was, but "if we receive information that that's part of what happened in this incident, then definitely we're going to pursue that."
Monday night, a man standing outside the New Century who would only give his name as Mike and said he's the club's VIP host, declined to comment on the shooting since it's still under investigation.
There are several surveillance cameras outside the club, but Rueca said he couldn't talk about whether there's any video footage of the incident.
Marke Bieschke, a gay longtime San Francisco journalist, DJ, and bar co-owner who knew Torres for almost 20 years, said that Torres had been planning to go to strip clubs Friday night "to model swim suits" that he'd made.
Bieschke, who used gender neutral pronouns for Torres, described his friend as "a very sweet and gentle person at heart" who freely doled out hugs and snow cones. However, Torres was also "very unfiltered in what they said."
Recently, Torres had been standing on corners with an amplifier and a microphone, "loudly telling people on the street" what he thought of them, whether they were "cute," or they were "assholes" for ignoring him, said Bieschke.
"You agreed with Bubbles in most of the cases," he said. "... That's what Bubbles was. You've always got that urge, and Bubbles would actually do it." He added, "Bubbles would get loud and upset, but I never saw any kind of physical altercation or evidence of that."
Torres, who made "very unique and idiosyncratic" collages that he'd claimed to sell "for thousands of dollars," had been planning to go to Berlin "to release some music and pursue their art career," said Bieschke, who also said that Torres "considered himself a queer man who liked to dress up in women's clothes."
Friends created a memorial to Anthony Torres, aka Bubbles, at Larkin and Myrtle streets. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn
According to a piece Bieschke wrote for the 48Hills.org news site, around 150 people attended a vigil Sunday for Torres at the scene of his death.
Monday afternoon, flowers, candles, notes, and several photos decorated the public toilet near where he'd died, and people came to add to the memorial or just pause to reflect.
One young couple gasped as they walked by the memorial at Larkin and Myrtle streets. They stopped briefly, and the man crossed himself and said, "That's fucked up."
Luvenia Johnson, one of the people taking in the sight, indicated she hadn't known Torres well, but they'd been acquainted well enough to exchange a friendly "Heeey biiitch," when they saw each other.
"He was free with his love and free with himself," said Johnson.
A friend of Johnson's who didn't give her name said, "If you don't know how to dance, spend the night with Bubbles, baby. You're going to learn how to dance."
A man who lives in a hotel near the scene said that before the shooting, Torres had been in front of the smoke shop next to the New Century with some of his belongings.
The man, who didn't want his name published out of fear of recrimination, said that he'd heard Torres yelling for someone to call the police, then three to four shots. He said he'd then seen a man running up O'Farrell Street, which is just south of the scene. He didn't see a gun.
Mohsen Abouraya, who owns the smoke shop, said that he'd been with a customer when the shooting occurred. Abouraya didn't see what happened, but he heard six gunshots in rapid succession.
"I thought it was fireworks," he said, but soon, people were running into the store for shelter.
Abouraya had heard some yelling just before the shots, but he said, "I didn't pay attention" to what was being said, because he'd thought "it was just crackheads on the block fighting each other." The neighborhood is well known for violence, and drug dealing and abuse.
A man who was standing with several other people near the New Century Monday night showed the Bay Area Reporter photos on his cellphone that he said had been taken just before the shooting.
In one of the the photos, Torres, who was without a wig and wearing a black top and pink and white pants, is raising his middle finger in the air.
The man, who would only give his name as Carlos, said he has video footage of the shooting itself, but wouldn't share it unless the B.A.R. paid him.
Tenderloin resident David Elliott Lewis, who lives near the scene and was awakened by the gunshots, wrote several Facebook posts over the weekend about Torres' death and lamented that it took some time to gain media coverage.
"The marginalized die in silence," wrote Lewis, who was the first to point to the scanner recording and other information about Torres' killing.
Contributions for a memorial fund for Torres can be made at https://www.youcaring.com/bubblesbubblesynski-945673?fb_action_ids=10159431045360323&fb_action_types=youcaringcom%3Adonate