No city would want a tragedy like this, particularly if the city prides itself on being an international destination for tourism and business, for cuisine, nightlife and good fun.
While checking out a restaurant menu from the sidewalk, a German tourist in town to celebrate her birthday and wedding anniversary was killed by a stray bullet from a gunfight.
Her husband, who was beside her, watched helplessly she died near the city signature Union Square shopping district and one of its iconic cable car lines.
Although an arrest swiftly came, the 18-year-old suspect was released for insufficient evidence.
Worried about a potential public relations nightmare, not to mention outrage from Germany, Police Chief George Gascon lamented on the apparent lack of community concern over the shooting.
“Frankly, in other (instances) my phone would have been ringing off the hook. And it was like the needle wasn’t moved,” Gascon said, noting his office gets inundated with queries about lesser crimes.
“We should be angry,” he told reporters. “We should be concerned. This is a human being who lost her life. And quite frankly, not engaged in any kind of risky activity. There was none of that here.
“I find that completely unacceptable.”
Now that almost a month has passed, police are saying another arrest is imminent as September ushers in San Francisco’s massive convention season, which draws thousands of visitors to the city’s hotels and hotspots.
On August 8, Mechthild Schroer, 50, of Minden, Germany was looking for a place to eat with her husband, Stefan, about a block from their hotel when she fatally shot.
The couple arrived in the U.S. in mid-July and were planning to also visit St. Louis and Chicago before returning home. Their two teenage sons remained in Germany. Schroer had been recently named rector of her elementary school in Germany.
Police said Schroer was in the wrong place at the wrong time: two groups got into an altercation outside a private end-of-summer teen dance party at a comedy club. Gunfire erupted and Mechtchild Shroer was shot in the head by a stray bullet.
Mayor Gavin Newsom personally offered his condolences to Schroer’s heartbroken husband before he returned to Germany.
“It was an unbelievably emotional and heart wrenching discussion, the man was gracious under the circumstances,” Tony Winnicker, Newsom’s spokesman, said about the conversation. “We treat crime against residents and visitors with equal significance. Both are unacceptable.”
Five days after the shooting, another German tourist, Nils Linke, 21, was killed by a by a hit-and-run driver while riding a bicycle in another part of San Francisco.
The alleged driver, Joshua Calder, 36, of Oakland, is currently out on bail after pleading not guilty to three charges, including vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
“Unfortunately, it’s incredibly bad luck these incidents happened,” said Eberhard Brockmann, German deputy consul general in San Francisco about the tragedies.
Between 300,000 to 400,000 Germans travel to San Francisco annually, Brockmann estimates. He doesn’t think the tourist deaths will have an impact on German visitors coming to the city.
It isn’t likely to have a negative effect on other foreign tourists visiting the city, said Robert Weisberg, a law professor at nearby Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
“This doesn’t shock me at all. Yes, they are tragedies, but these deaths won’t put a stain on the strong reputation of San Francisco,” said Weisberg, who’s also the director of Stanford’s criminal justice center. “Unless, there was a pattern of this occurring.”
It’s no understatement to say the convention and tourism business is San Francisco’s economic life blood.
Last year, more than 15 million people visited San Francisco, pumping nearly $8 billion into the city’s economy, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. Visitors spent about $21.5 million a day last year.
More than 45,000 people are expected to attend Oracle’s OpenWorld conference later this month, and about 15,000 are projected to attend the Nike Women’s Marathon in October, the visitors bureau estimates.
“Unquestionably, tourism is our No. 1 industry. Yet, you cannot dismiss the significance of someone losing their life here,” Steve Falk, executive director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. “It’s very, very tragic and unacceptable.
“I tell people everyday, this city survives and thrives on being an international destination.”
Despite the tragedies, bureau officials say there is no crime wave against tourists visiting San Francisco.
“Do we go out and start a campaign in spite of this?” said Laurie Armstrong, vice president of public affairs for the bureau. “No, these are randoms incidents, not a trend.”
Winnicker said emphatically, “San Francisco continues to be one of the safest big cities in the U.S. and in the world. The statistics bear that out.”
Police say violent crime in the city is down 10 percent from last month and the homicide total this year is on pace with last year, the lowest total in four decades. The department does not break out statistics on crimes against tourists.
Although police say they are not getting as many tips as they would like, they are close to solving the case, said Capt. Mike Biel. But he declined to say specifically when an arrest might be made.
Biel said in his 30 years in the department he can’t recall a tourist being caught in the middle of such crossfire.
“It’s something we can’t take back, and (we) hope never happens again,” Biel said.