One suspected killer was in custody and detectives were scouring the Bay Area on Wednesday for two alleged accomplices in the slaying of an African American musician who investigators said was targeted because of his race.
Daniel Porter-Kelly, 31, of Richmond, was arrested Nov. 16 and charged with murder, robbery and the special circumstance of committing a racially motivated crime, which could bring the death penalty if he is convicted.
Contra Costa County sheriff’s investigators believe Porter-Kelly and two other men — Ray Simons, 32, of Hercules, and Daniel Ortega, 31, of Novato — attacked and killed Sims outside a nearby pool hall.
Simons and Ortega remained at large Wednesday. Porter-Kelly’s Berkeley-based defense attorney, Seth Morris, declined to talk about the case. All three men are white.
The death shocked and horrified relatives and friends of Sims, a singer, guitarist and piano player who was described as a generous, friendly man who never harmed anyone.
“He was a very kind and loving person,” said his sister, Stacey Sims, 33, who lived with her brother and parents in a neat suburban home in a quiet subdivision in eastern Richmond. “He loved music. He loved making friends. He was the best brother a sister could ever have. It’s been very difficult. It still seems unreal.”
His parents, Bill and Renee Sims, set up a memorial for their son with photographs and written condolences in the entryway of their house. A table with graduation pictures, cards and a basket of flowers was in the living room, where their son regularly played a baby grand piano.
“We want to have justice,” said a somber Bill Sims, 72, about his namesake son. “It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. He was not aggressive. He was never involved in any violence. He was always trying to befriend people, maybe to a fault.”
Investigators believe Sims was inside the Capri Club — a pool hall and bar in the 4100 block of Appian Way in El Sobrante — in the early morning hours of Nov. 12 when the suspects jumped, robbed, beat and then shot him as he attempted to escape.
A sheriff’s sergeant came across Sims’ body in the street near the pool hall just after 2 a.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Sims, who worked in retail, had no gang ties or criminal history, said Jimmy Lee, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
Police have been searching for Simons and Ortega since Friday, when they raided the condominium in Novato owned by Ortega’s 54-year-old mother, Renee Brown. Detectives arrested Brown on suspicion of interfering with the investigation. She is being held on $500,000 bail.
Neighbors said Ortega is “a big, quiet guy” who has recently been seen only occasionally at the home, which is in the Meadow Park area of the former Hamilton Field military base.
“He’s been nothing but polite, helpful and friendly,” said Laura Dimond, who lives next door with her husband, Bob. “I’m shocked to hear this, really.”
The three suspects in the killing were well known in the El Sobrante neighborhood where the crime occurred.
Saleem Ismail, the manager of Appian Food and Liquor, across the street from the Capri Club, said he has seen all three suspects in his store “many times.” He and the local library provided surveillance footage to sheriff’s investigators, who apparently used the video to identify the alleged killers.
Anthony Rayford, 39, a local construction worker, said he was friends with the suspects and would sometimes employ them. They often frequented the Capri Club after work, he said.
“I would never expect that type of behavior out of them,” said Rayford, who was wearing a Make America Great Again hat. “Every time they’ve worked with me and for me, I’ve never had any trouble with any of them. Always on time and hard workers. … It’s hard for me to swallow that they would be charged for this.”
Sims was also well known in the area, where he enjoyed having drinks and playing pool with his many friends.
“Will was an amazing human being,” said Brett Murphy, who described how they became best friends after Sims had reached out to him when he was going through a divorce. “He cared for and helped others any chance he got. He always wanted others to be as happy and have as much fun as he was. He made friends with everyone. He was very charismatic.”
Murphy said Sims and he were singing karaoke at the Captain’s Chest Cocktail Lounge in Concord on the night he died. The last song Sims performed was Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”
Sims was, by all accounts, an accomplished musician whose singing voice was a deep, sexy bass.
He had performed with a university group called JAZZ-ology since 2012. The group had won several awards and had been a featured attraction at festivals like the Reno Jazz Festival and the Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey.
“I think the music world will not be the same without him,” she said. “There’s many of us musicians who make the music about ourselves. And this is something you can’t say about him. Will never made the music about himself. He always made the music about music.”
At Ed’s Place on San Pablo Dam Road, photographs of Sims playing the piano and generally enjoying life were plastered all over the walls.
“I used to flirt with him even though I’m old enough to be his mama. He would just smile,” said Debi Schaffer, 56, the bartender, who said he had beautiful eyes and a great smile. “Of all people, Will, come on. It’s just a very, very senseless crime.”
A memorial will be held for Sims at 1 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Hilltop Green Club House, 1095 Parkside Drive, in Richmond.
Sarah Ravani, Jenna Lyons, Evan Sernoffsky and Peter Fimrite are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com Twitter: @SarRavani, @JennaJourno, @EvanSernoffsky and @pfimrite