First came the plastic cottage playhouse and toddler-sized playground slide, unceremoniously placed just a few feet from the 19-foot-long shrine to Andy Lopez. More recently, a neighborhood mother dragged a rocking horse to this vacant lot of dry grass and weeds.
Slowly, piece by piece, a makeshift playground is rising at the site where the 13-year-old boy was shot and killed last month by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy, even as the Lopez family and their supporters begin demanding that the privately-owned property is turned into a memorial park named after Lopez.
"We're not going to stop until we get that lot," said Nicole Guerra, a close friend of the Lopez family. "We will raise the money for that park. There's no question about it. We will not take anything less than a park."
Last week, just after dark, neighborhood children were at play as mothers, fathers and grandmothers stood in the glow of candles and two workshop lamps on 4-by-4 posts, reading aloud a ritual rosary for the recently cremated boy.
Under watchful eyes, toddlers and younger kids bundled against the cold autumn night bounded in and out of the playhouse and took turns bouncing on the rocking horse. Teenagers hung farther back, writing "R.I.P. Andy" on posters covering a fence with bullet holes from the shooting.
Fueled by a burning need to build something enduring to remember Lopez, residents have staked their unofficial claim to this lot. With every play structure, candle and flower arrangement, they believe it belongs more to the neighborhood than to the Santa Rosa real estate agent who owns the property. Some vow to never give back the land.
Neighbors have been quietly promised a park at the corner for at least two decades. They nearly got one six years before Andy Lopez was born and again when the boy turned 5.
Though the land was never developed into a community park with grass and playground equipment, neighborhood children have played for years in the two fields northwest of the intersection of Moorland and West Robles avenues. When the grass and weeds grow waist high, they play hide-and-seek, or soldiers, or cops and robbers. Sometimes they play with paintball guns or shoot cans with airsoft BB guns.
Older residents go for walks with their dogs or take strolls along the sidewalks that surround the empty lots, feeding into a nearly 20-year-old subdivision that many local residents are not even aware is called Parkview.
This is where Andy Lopez grew up, on the northeast end of the Parkview subdivision. Like other kids, he used the vacant lots as his playground.
"My son has these memories of playing in that field with Andy," said Guerra.
A park on the vacant lot could serve as a place where residents could come together and share their memories of the boy before the Oct. 22 shooting, she said.
Lopez was shot seven times while walking down a sidewalk on the east side of the lot with an airsoft BB gun in his hand. Deputy Erick Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran with the Sheriff's Office, told police he fired at Lopez because he thought the boy's airsoft gun — which looked like an AK-47 assault rifle — was a deadly weapon. But critics question whether Gelhaus gave Lopez enough time to understand what was happening.