For the friends and family of Luis Miranda, the 17 year old who was killed in Maxwell Farms Regional Park on Oct. 22, 2007, his memorial table is a place for both mourning and celebration of a life that ended too soon. Their annual vigil, held on the anniversary of Miranda’s death, attracts 50 to 100 loved ones who, bathed in candlelight, quietly recite the rosary in Spanish.
“Dios te salve María, llena eres de gracia,” they murmured on Tuesday night, as a line of Sonoma County Sheriff’s squad cars lined the parking lot and deputies kept a careful watch.
The future of this annual vigil, as well as Miranda’s memorial picnic table in Maxwell Park, was called into question this month. Some organizations – law enforcement agencies included – have suggested the vigil and the table may be attracting the wrong element to a community park, a space shared by the youngsters attending the nearby Boys & Girls Club. Among the throng of mourners at Tuesday’s vigil, a significant number wore red, the signature color of the norteño street gang.
Whether or not Miranda was a member of the gang is up for debate. His parents and friends said, while he associated with gang affiliates, he was not officially involved with any criminal street gang. But it was those associations that led to his murder.
On the day Miranda died, he was hanging out in Maxwell Park with a group of friends, at least some of whom were norteños. When a group of rival sureños passed by, a verbal altercation broke out. The sureños went to a nearby residence to retrieve a 16-gauge, sawed-off shotgun, which 17-year-old Juan Manuel Calderon carried back to Maxwell. He fired three shots, two of which hit Miranda, striking him in the head. The teenager died on the bench that night.
“This table, this is where he died,” said his father, Roberto Miranda, through a translator, his hands gesturing over the memorial plaque that loved ones paid $450 for the park to install. “This table, for us, represents a lot. I would like it to stay here.”
His mother, Oralia, agreed, but said through a translator that she, “Wants the table to stay, but didn’t want any trouble with the police.”
The issue came to light while planning was underway for this year’s memorial, when Luis’ loved ones learned there was interest in both moving the table and the vigil next year. According to vigil organizers, representatives from the Boys & Girls Club, Sonoma Sheriff’s Office and Sonoma County Regional Parks were all present at a meeting during which they questioned whether the table and the vigil should remain in Maxwell Park. On Wednesday, directors of both the Boys & Girls Club and Regional Parks refused to comment on the issue, but Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett confirmed the discussion took place. “I saw it as two completely different discussions,” he said. “One is a question of the vigil; the other is about whether it’s in the community’s best interest to have the bench in Maxwell.”
After the department initially refused the Index-Tribune’s request for an interview, Regional Parks spokeswoman Meda Freeman emailed a statement on Thursday that said, “From what I understand, the sheriff’s office and Boys & Girls Club contacted Regional Parks recently and expressed an interest in having the table removed or relocated. We’re scheduled to meet with them in early December to learn more about the issue. If they believe there’s a public safety concern regarding the memorial table, we’d want to help resolve the issue, but no action has been proposed or decision made at this time.”