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Suspect ID'd in Death of 'Bubbles'

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Hieu Trung Nguyen.
Hieu Trung Nguyen.   (Source:Courtesy SFPD)

San Francisco police have released the identity of the man suspected of fatally shooting Anthony "Bubbles" Torres in September in the Tenderloin district as they seek the public's help in apprehending him.

Police said Friday that an arrest warrant has been issued for Hieu Trung Nguyen, 30, of San Francisco, who "should be considered armed and dangerous."

Nguyen is 6 feet tall and weighs 190 pounds, and has dark hair and dark eyes, police stated.

In response to emailed questions Friday, Officer Grace Gatpandan, a police spokeswoman, said she couldn't disclose what information led to Nguyen being named a suspect. However, she said, "If someone sees him they should just call 911."

As of Tuesday afternoon, police hadn't provided any updates on the case.

Torres, 44, 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.

He 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, 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."

Torres died across the street from the strip club, near the gay Gangway bar, which is at 841 Larkin Street.

Both the New Century and the Gangway have numerous surveillance cameras, but police haven't discussed whether there's any video footage of the incident.

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 being fired. 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.

The man didn't respond to a text message Tuesday asking if the photo of Nguyen matched the person he'd seen running up O'Farrell.

A man who answered the phone Tuesday at the New Century said he didn't recognize Nguyen's name. The man, who didn't give his name, said he didn't have time to discuss the case but he said the club's manager would be in later, after the Bay Area Reporter's deadline. He hung up the phone when asked for the manager's contact information. Email and Facebook messages to the club weren't returned.

Marke Bieschke, a gay longtime San Francisco journalist, DJ, and bar co-owner who knew Torres for almost 20 years, said in September that Torres had been planning to go to strip clubs the night he was shot "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 frozen treats. However, Torres was also "very unfiltered in what they said."

In the days before his death, Torres had been standing on street 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, adding, "I never saw any kind of physical altercation or evidence of that."

Asked just after Torres' death whether it was being investigated as a hate crime, Officer Robert Rueca, a police spokesman, 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."

The warrant for Nguyen was issued with a bail of $15 million. Nguyen was identified as the suspect after an investigation by the San Francisco Police Department Homicide Detail.

Anyone with information on Nguyen's whereabouts may call the SFPD's 24-hour tip line at (415) 575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411 and begin the message with "SFPD."

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