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Luis Miranda memorial, vigil in question

ON TUESDAY, OCT. 22, more than 50 people gathered at Maxwell Farms Regional Park to remember Luis Miranda, who was killed in the park in 2007 when he was 17. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

ON TUESDAY, OCT. 22, more than 50 people gathered at Maxwell Farms Regional Park to remember Luis Miranda, who was killed in the park in 2007 when he was 17. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

By Emily Charrier-Botts/INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

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.”

Sackett said there are safety concerns to consider. “You have to be careful because you bring people together and they’re very emotional. They’re upset. Then they’re released into the community with no way to diffuse the situation,” he said.

Because the vigil attracts gang members, police usually have a presence during the evening event. Friends of the Miranda family recalled two years ago when 10 members of the Sheriff’s MAGNET (Multiple Agency Gang Enforcement Team) stood nearby while they mourned.

“The people attending the memorial felt that (our presence) was over-zealous and not necessary,” Sackett said. Seeking to be cooperative, in 2012, law enforcement officials agreed to back off.

Sackett said after the memorial last year, some of the attendees came across a group of sureños and a fight broke out at a nearby shopping center, which left one of the sureños hospitalized with stab wounds. Attendees at Tuesday’s vigil vehemently denied that Luis’ friends had anything to do with the stabbing, which remains unsolved because the victim refused to cooperate with police, Sackett said.

“The rumor we heard is that they (the attackers) were at the vigil,” Sackett said. “Based on that, we were concerned about the vigil this year.”

Sheriff’s deputies made their presence known on Tuesday night, when the number of police cars rose from two to four to six by the end of the vigil. Attendees didn’t seem too bothered by the squad cars, but they had strong feelings about any plans to move the memorial.

“I was shocked because, I mean it’s a place where we all get together to remember him,” said Maira Chavez, 21, Luis’ girlfriend, who now works as a dental assistant. “I don’t think it draws a bad element.”

Many pointed out that it’s Maxwell Park, not the memorial table that attracts the bad element. With its convenient location between the Springs and the City of Sonoma, with dark corners and easy escape routes, it’s an attractive place for youth to drink and party.

“People are always going to come here and drink. They always have,” said Tavo Garcia, 25, who has a portrait of his lost friend tattooed on his forearm, surrounded by red roses. “I think for them (police), it’s just a reminder of a bad thing they want to forget. But you can do a lot of good with this.”

Garcia has seen the silver lining inside the tragedy of Luis’ death. He admits, like many at the memorial, that he was not making the best decisions as a teen – prioritizing partying over productivity. Then he and his friends faced the real world consequences of their lifestyle when Luis died violently and suddenly six years ago.

“It’s one of those things that shocks your life,” said Garcia, who is now a successful tattoo artist. “It made me stop doing a lot of bad things. It put a lot of people on the straight and narrow.”

He said at first, many “wanted blood,” but, thanks in no small part to the pleas of Luis’ parents, realized that revenge wasn’t the answer. In 2011, the Sonoma City Council declared Oct. 22 as a “Day of Peace” to honor Luis. It’s a mantra his friends and family deeply respect, making T-shirts every year to recognize the occasion.

“It’s every year, it’s every day,” said Diego Sanchez, 25, one of Luis’ high school friends. “He was a big part of us, he’s still a big part of us.”

A few mourners vowed to fight any efforts to move the memorial table or vigil, adding that they wished law enforcement and the Boys & Girls Club would use it as a teaching moment to demonstrate the consequences of poor decisions to the next generation.

“Why do we create a memorial? To remember and learn a lesson. Do you really think if you take away a bench, you take away the problem?” questioned Michelle Skaff, a close friend of the Miranda family. “Look at the Plaza, the rose garden attracts a ‘bad element.’ Are they going to take the rose garden out because they don’t like who hangs out there?”

For more photos, click here:

  • Dave Pier

    The primary responsibility of the Boys & Girls Club is to ensure the safety of the hundreds of youth and their families that utilize the Club’s facility every day. As such, we are vigilant to potential danger and take proactive steps to mitigate risk that could impact Club members. During the past year the Boys & Girls Club has reached out to the Sonoma County Regional Parks with a request to not have a beacon memorializing a gang homicide located in Maxwell Park because it attracts a dangerous element in close proximity to the Club. The request was a direct result of the gang assault that occurred after the 2012 vigil, and the subsequent nighttime incident involving a firearm that occurred in Maxwell Park.

    Nobody wants to see another gang related tragedy occur in the community. We all have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent that from happening, and every aspect of the
    Boys & Girls Club is designed to help our youth become productive members of this community, and provide wonderful opportunities for them to do so.

    Dave Pier, CEO
    Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley

    • Daniel Miranda

      as is the primary responsibility of the Sonoma Sheriffs department, but that didn’t stop them from murdering that 13 year old boy last week did it? how do we stop that Violence Dave? leave the bench

    • Daniel Miranda

      The hypocrisy that is at the heart of attempting to put and end to this vigil is disgusting. Stopping the vigil is a direct attack on the rights of the people who attend the event. Labeling the event as a sort of gang reunion is foolish, considering the event is held by his parents.

      Claiming the event may bring a threat to public safety is ridiculous, considering the Sonoma Sherriff Department are more trigger happy then the supposed “Gang Members” of the County, who often times are just misled youth. There is little to no documentation of the abuse of power these sadistic Neanderthals inflict on the citizens of Sonoma. The lack of reported incidents is due to the fact that these cowards get away with almost any unlawful policing they do. As a very concerned citizen of the county and after experiencing police brutality and abuse of authority by the Sonoma sheriff department, the fact that they are so concerned for public safety is at its best, laughable. The hypocrisy in the concern shown by the sheriff here has little to no credibility after the murder of Andy Lopez Cruz, the 13 year old boy who was shot 7 times for carrying a toy gun. what is the difference between a gang and the police at that point? There is none.

  • hermosatu

    Dave Pier, how many of these teens attended your club? How many of them did you call the police on before the shooting. If he was or wasn’t gang related is not the point, the fact is…he was TRAGICALLY MURDERED in front his friends. The Vigil starts at 6:30 after youth leave the club, people of all ages and nationalities show up to honor someone being taken too soon. If you step out of your glass box and get to know these young adults you would realize they are just like you and I. Perhaps one day you can come out of the BGC and pay your respects to someone being taken too soon, no mater the reason and help spread the word… 10-22 Day of Peace.

  • Gudctzn

    Well when I look at the above picture, I do not see people mostly dressed in red. I see one girl with an orange sweater on, and as someone who attended the vigil I did not see a lot of people in red.

    I have to agree with the point made in the comment below. A LOCAL TEEN WAS TRAGICALLY MURDERED. I feel like this whole town has completely painted a negative and wrong picture of this life lost. I agree with what Tavo Garcia says, and how he sees the ‘silver lining’ in Miranda’s death. Miranda’s death has left a mark on everyone who’s life he touched and continues to do so on the next generation. This bench is not a haven for gang members that Dave Pier is making it sound. It is a place where we can sit and remember a loyal friend, sweet soul, and beautiful person. I personally like to go there to remember that laugh and that smile! It was the best smile ever and extremely contagious. Year after year I see the same people at this vigil. People who I know remember Luis on a daily basis and do no go to this vigil to seek retaliation. Let’s face the facts, it looks better to not have this tragedy happen at all and removing the bench would make this go away for certain viewers.

    I am so upset that this is even up for debate. At Maxwell park homeless camping and consuming alcohol as well as drug users hanging around happen daily. I hardly think this bench “attracts a dangerous element in close proximity to the Club.”

  • Tia1510

    I can agree 100% with the two comments below! All the people who show up each year love Luis. If that’s what helps us; his friends and family with his loss then why not keep the bench and support us.

  • Andrea Vasquez

    There’s just something I would like to address with this article before I say my opinion of this matter, looking through the pictures and also being there personally I’m a little bothered by “a significant number wore red” when the majority of us were in black or white. As well I would like to talk about this other incident that happened in 2012. Through the rumor mill it was told that these kids were at the vigil and I can’t confirm nor deny that I wasn’t there but truly I would like to take to consideration anyone know how old any of these kids are? Many of Luis’ friends are 21 and older now, we have jobs and many our now parents themselves we have grown so much from this tragedy as Tavo Garcia was quoted “it shocked our lives” but not only that but we have all come to respect and love Luis’ parents from the very beginning they have pleaded for NO revenge what I am trying to say with that is sadly whoever was involved with this other incident may not know the whole story like the many of us who have lived the story. I think with the city council granting 10.22.07 a day of peace we should be educating our youth on this horrible tragedy have it be a learning experience so that we utilize the plaque and they realize the respect and love that many of us have for the bench. To have the bench removed is to say it happened and let’s just forget it but many of us now adults suffered through that tragedy and would love to make something positive come from the story not worse things. I personally have been to that bench many times not only with other friends but alone as well with my thoughts and talks with Luis his last breath was taken there and for me as hurtful as it is to go there and think of his laugh and smile lets me smile. It hurts to see that people would rather want to get rid of this memory then to educate and make better of our community. Not only take this to consideration but there is also his parents who fought very hard to gain this bench for their child’s memory at the end of the day what this should be about is a 17year old was tragically taken from a us too soon

  • Lank Thompson

    Time to take the vigil to his grave site. Not in a public park.

  • Tavo Garcia Fine Art

    To Lank Thompson comment he was cremated, in my personal experience ive lived near Maxwell park a grate part of my life and that park has always been known to bad after hours, when we use to hang out there when i was 15-17 years old which i am 25 goin on 26 now that park has always been a place were teens go and drink party etc… removing a bench that means so much to luises family and friends that see Oct 22 as a day to reflect and meet up with old friends and show love and respect to someone that meant so much to us the way i see it is that the bench is being singled out because of the situation that Luises passing if it would b any other situation there wouldn’t b such a debate about it. The park has bigger problems than the bench to deal with if they want people to stop hanving people hang out there they have to clear out the whole forrest in the back. The bench is a reminder to alota people that u cant take things lightly there are serious consequences to bad decisions Luis was an amazing human being that i loved like a brother we always would talk about doing big things in life n be remembered i just never thought ide b like this if the bench was used as a symbol to educate the community of violence and not just try to sweep it under the rug cuz the problem isn’t gonna go away and probably will happen again and taking out the bench isn’t gonna fix it at all