By Ryan Wallace, The Salinas California

SALINAS, Calif. - The Salinas family who have fostered the career of professional boxer Preston Freeman are in shock after the 20-year-old was shot to death late Wednesday night near his hometown of St. Louis.

"We're just numb," said Max Garcia, who has co-trained Freeman since September.

According to a press release from University City Police, Freeman suffered one gunshot wound to the chest in the parking lot outside a nightclub. He was driven to the hospital by unknown individuals and died from his injuries.

Garcia said he learned about Freeman's death from his son Sam Garcia, who also co-trained Freeman, late Wednesday night and later talked with Freeman's father.

Freeman, who turned 20 years old last month and was living with Garcias, was scheduled to fight tonight in Redwood City. Garcia said the fighter went back home to St. Louis on Monday.

"He wasn't thinking about anything but being home," Garcia said. "We couldn't send him into the ring when he was not mentally into it."

This wasn't the first time that Freeman left Salinas to return home to St. Louis, but Garcia said he didn't expect him to return to California.

Freeman, who was managed by Max Garcia's wife Kathy Garcia, began his professional career by going 3-0 with Garcia Boxing in his corner. In his last bout on Dec. 15, Freeman dazzled the Salinas crowd by scoring a dominant unanimous decision against Vicente Guzman, of Visalia, in a four-round light welterweight bout. Freeman's lone knockout came on Dec. 1 against Eduardo Hernandez.

Garcia said he was open to having Freeman return because of the skill and natural talent he displayed in the ring.

"He did things you can't teach," Garcia said, "He was just a natural. By far he had the most raw talent of any boxer we've started training with."

That's high praise considering Garcia Boxing trained Jose Celaya to a No. 1 ranking and recently had Eloy Perez fight for a world title.

Garcia said he was aware of Freeman's troubled past, but believed his decision to come to California would open up a new life for him.

"It didn't work out," Garcia.

Garcia said he'll remember Freeman for the fun he brought to the boxing outfit and for being such a quick study. One of the indelible memories he'll carry with him is of Freeman with face smashed against the car window looking out at the Pacific Ocean.

"He was always having fun and in the ring he pushed his abilities to the limit," he said. "Every time I would teach him something, he would pick it right up. He was a sponge."

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