Solemn-faced teenagers, their parents and their siblings—too young to comprehend the moment—stood together with candles in City Plaza to memorialize
The candlelight vigil for Jesse Lopez on Thursday evening drew about 200 people, including Jesse's family, his classmates and local leaders. They called for an end to the violence as they remembered the spunky, smiley teenager.
"My son wasn't bad," Jesse's mother, Margarita Lopez, said. "He was caring and respectful."
Jesse and a friend, also 14, left a quinceañera celebration at the county fairgrounds with new acquaintances, who drove them up Hecker Pass and into an ambush around 8:15 p.m. Saturday, according to the Sheriff's Office. The boys were targeted by gang members, though detectives said the victims also had gang affiliation.
One of Jesse's friends, Jaime Sanchez, spoke to the crowd and said the two were as close as brothers.
"It's sad that he got taken away like that," Sanchez said, then turning to Jesse's parents. "He's watching over us now .... He wouldn't want you to be sad. He'd want you to be happy because God has another angel."
"This is a story that just has kept on repeating too many times," Don Brown, Jesse's science teacher and a 27-year veteran of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, said. "... Step up and love all of children of our community and show them a better way."
All of the victims have been young, Latino men. Their average age: 21.
"It's a sad event," City Councilman and retired Watsonville High teacher Lowell Hurst said. "The solutions are here. They're here in this community. They're here in this plaza tonight."
Jenn Laskin, a teacher at Watsonville's Renaissance High School and a leader in the Brown Berets, said Thursday's event was the largest turnout of young people they've ever had for a vigil or march. The Brown Berets hosts the in the plaza each fall to remember victims of violence and advocate for change.
"The community has been coming out here every year to say 'We demand a cease fire between the barrios,'" said Tomas Alejo, a leader in the Brown Berets who is getting a masters in social work at San Jose State.
Watsonville mother Caroline Cervantes has participated in the Peace and Unity March for three years, ever since her son, Ray Ray Cervantes, was killed on Oct. 27, 2008.
"It is very difficult to go on, but I got involved in the community," said Cervantes, who was wearing a shirt printed with a photo of her late son. "Us, as mothers, are in pain because we don't have our babies anymore."
Alejo urged adults to teach kids their history, culture and roots, and pushed leaders to provide more programs for teens.
"We have to step up," he said.
Jesse's older sister, Marisol, thanked the community for the support shown to her family.
"He was a happy kid," said Marisol, a UC Davis graduate who wants to become a lawyer. "He was loving. He was everything you could expect from a little brother."
She said she believes her brother is giving her strength to get through this trial.
Brown, the science teacher, said Jesse was a popular kid with an easy smile. He plans to leave Jesse's seat empty for the remainder of the school year, in honor of the slain teen.
"Jesse was a special guy. He knew how to put a smile on my face," Brown said. "He was really good that way."
People wept and leaned on one another through the hour-long event. The aroma of melted wax lingered in the cool evening air. At the end, women handed out 4-by-6 photos of Jesse to those who didn't have his picture.
Danny Dodge, son of City Councilman Daniel Dodge, reminded everyone that these events are helpful so people don't have to endure the pain of Jesse's death alone. He closed the vigil with a word of advice and a prayer.
"I also just wanted to say, when you're with your family, tell them you love them," he said. "... It's not promised they'll come back."