(01-11) 18:36 PST Oakland -- Alvaro Ayala handed over his cell phone and his wallet to armed robbers in the driveway of his East Oakland home Sunday night. But Ayala's wallet was empty, and the two masked gunmen wanted more, family members said.
With his wife and two children standing behind him - the family had just returned home from shopping at Ross Dress for Less - Ayala made a split-second decision that apparently cost him his life.
He stepped between the gunmen and his family. The gunmen responded by fatally shooting him, said Esmerelda Acevedo, Ayala's sister-in-law.
"They knew he didn't have money," she said, speaking at Ayala's home Monday. "He put himself in front of his family, so they shot him."
Ayala, 28, died in his driveway in the arms of his older brother Eduardo Ayala, who rushed to the front of the yellow stucco home after the shooting, summoned by Ayala's 10-year-old son.
Monday morning, family and friends filled the small one-story house on the 900 block of 70th Avenue. The house, located two blocks east of the Oakland Coliseum BART parking lot, was still decorated with Christmas lights, reindeer and a Santa Claus on the roof. But inside and out, the sobs of family members could be seen and heard.
Ayala, an immigrant from Michoacan, Mexico, had one sister and was the fourth of six brothers, all of whom live in the neighborhood. All the brothers work in the construction industry, with Ayala working primarily on lead and asbestos removal.
Candles forming the shape of a crucifix burned on the driveway on the spot where Ayala died. Inside, Ayala's distraught wife and two children were being comforted by relatives.
The family was unable to see the faces of Ayala's masked killers or even provide authorities with the color of their skin. On Monday, they were too upset to talk to reporters.
Their relatives relayed details of the attack.
Shortly before 7 p.m., Alvaro Ayala returned home with his wife, Carmen Mugia, and two children, a 10-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. After parking their truck in the driveway, Mugia went to close the nearly 6-foot-tall metal driveway gates, which are common to many homes on the block.
But before she did, two masked men with guns barged in, said Acevedo, and the robbery and the killing happened.
We "just want the guilty ones to be found," Acevedo said. "They killed an innocent person. ... We don't want anyone else to be hurt by them."
Alvaro Ayala and his family bought the home roughly five years ago, said one of his brothers, Antonio Juarez Ayala, 31. The family had always viewed the area as safe, he said, noting that police heavily patrol San Leandro Street and International Boulevard, which bracket their neighborhood.
"There are a lot of police," he said.
Before Sunday, they had never experienced a break-in or any other problems, he said.
Ayala's family shares its home with other relatives, including Ayala's mother and his brother Eduardo, who were both home when the shooting happened.
Oakland police issued a statement Monday saying that a "preliminary investigation" revealed that the victim was killed as part of an attempted robbery. But police did not respond to numerous e-mail and phone requests for further comment.
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums issued a rare statement on the slaying, Oakland's first homicide of the year: "First, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the wife and children of Alvaro J. Ayala, who witnessed their father and husband tragically murdered by unidentified gunmen last night. I am deeply saddened by this tragic act of violence that leaves a young family torn apart."