The fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy has galvanized the Moorland Avenue neighborhood in which the teen lived and played, local residents and community leaders say.
It also appears to have strengthened a sense in Sonoma County's substantial Latino community — at least a quarter of the county's population — that they have the numbers and power to command the attention of government officials, and even affect policy.
"What (the shooting) is doing is bringing the community together, showing that we stick together no matter what," said Rosie Meraz, 15, a friend of the boy and a student at Elsie Allen High School who gathered with hundreds of others Friday night to mourn Lopez on the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday.
Meraz and other young people who have taken it upon themselves to look after the memorial that has sprung up at the site of the shooting are "trying to show the sheriffs and the cops and everybody who is watching this that we can stick together when it comes to something serious," she said.
As daily marches and vigils continue nearly two weeks after Lopez's shooting by Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who reportedly mistook the boy's BB gun for a deadly weapon, that sense of solidarity seems to be the overriding theme of comments from residents, organizers and local officials reflecting on the shooting.
People interviewed in the neighborhood and across the county said Lopez's killing will be remembered as a pivotal moment.
"I don't think I've ever seen so much action taken by different community groups over one incident. The shooting of Andy has sparked a lot of interest even with people I've never heard of before," said Leticia Romero, board president of the North Bay Organizing Project, a coalition of neighborhood, immigrant, religious and environmental groups and activists. "You've got students marching, human rights groups marching, faith-based communities coming together. It's just amazing to me."
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will take the unusual step of carving out time to discuss the shooting at Tuesday's meeting. They will start with an invocation by a local clergyman, though it is not yet clear who, and then open a wide-ranging discussion in which supervisors and members of the public can comment.
Chairman David Rabbitt said he hopes the discussion won't just be a forum to vent grief and rage, but also to discuss specific changes that might prevent something like this from happening again.
It will also show the public, particularly the Latino community, "that they're invited to the table to talk about what that change should look like," he said. "And that is a good thing."
Lopez was walking past the field just after 3 p.m. near his home on Moorland Avenue, in an unincorporated area of southwest Santa Rosa. He was carrying an airsoft BB gun designed to look like an AK-47 assault rifle. Two sheriff's deputies confronted him, reportedly thinking the weapon was real.
After telling the boy to drop the gun, Gelhaus fired eight rounds at Lopez as the boy turned to face the deputies, said Santa Rosa police, who are investigating the shooting. Lopez was hit seven times, according to a preliminary autopsy report.
Santa Rosa police, other local law enforcement agencies and the FBI are investigating the incident to determine whether Gelhaus acted reasonably in opening fire.