Friends and family gathered together Saturday where 13-year-old Andy Lopez died three years ago to remember the Santa Rosa boy and to ask for justice they do not feel has been served in the aftermath of his death.
It was Oct. 22, 2013, when, just after 3 p.m. on this weedy lot on Moorland Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa, Lopez was shot and killed by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus.
On Saturday afternoon, under sunny skies and before a makeshift altar that now lives on the site, about 40 people listened as Gloria Hernandez, a friend of the Lopez family, offered the first prayers of a vigil that preceded a community picnic. She talked about Lopez and his family and led the group in song.
“It’s a very special day,” she said, speaking in Spanish to the crowd. “A very special day also because it’s the day of Saint Paul II, and he also suffered.”
While the crowd was there to mourn Andy, she said, it also offered up prayers asking God to put a stop to the deaths of civilians at the hands of police officers, which have roiled black and Latino communities nationwide in recent years.
“We ask for a justice system that protects us, not one that kills us,” Hernandez said. “But more than anything, we ask for peace, peace for the Lopez family.”
Andy’s mother Sujay Lopez stood alongside Hernandez as she read through the prayers. It was the second public memorial event Sujay Lopez attended this weekend marking the three-year anniversary of her son’s death.
The first, held on Friday, was a protest march from Santa Rosa Junior College to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, where about two doze demonstrators carried signs and chanted slogans along the 1-mile walk.
On Saturday, Sujay Lopez looked tired and sad, dressed in white and her red hair blowing in the warm autumn wind.
“I have a lot of rage because they killed my son,” she said in Spanish. “With the county, and everyone that works for the county, including The Press Democrat.”
Signs propped up around the memorial had similar messages of anger.
“He was a child whose small body was riddled in bullets paid for by our tax dollars,” read one.
“Hold cops accountable,” read another.
In the moments before his death, Lopez was walking down Moorland Avenue, carrying a pellet gun that Gelhaus mistook for an assault rifle. When Gelhaus ordered Lopez to drop the weapon, the boy turned around, the barrel of the pellet gun rising as he did so. Gelhaus fired his own weapon, striking Lopez seven times.
A lengthy investigation cleared Gelhaus of any criminal wrongdoing, and in May, he was promoted to sergeant.
The Lopez family has brought a federal wrongful death case against the county and Gelhaus.
A makeshift park has sprung up in the vacant lot where Lopez died, with a mural painted on the fence that wraps around its northern edge, and children’s toys scattered behind a set of picnic tables.
A trio of sisters sat at the tables once the prayer service ended: Esther Ortega, 25, Star Ortega, 21, and Alondra Ortega, 19. They all grew up with Lopez, going to family gatherings and spending the holidays together.