A week after a 13-year-old boy carrying a replica rifle was killed by a deputy who thought his AK-47 lookalike was real, protesters marched through the normally quiet city where he was shot, and friends and family said a final goodbye to the 8th grade trumpet player at his funeral. Jean Elle reports.
A week after a 13-year-old boy carrying a replica rifle was killed by a deputy who thought his AK-47 lookalike was real, protesters marched through the normally quiet city where he was shot, and friends and family said a final goodbye to the 8th grade trumpet player at his funeral.
Thousands showed up in Santa Rosa, Calif. for a noon rally, carrying signs that read "We are all Andy Lopez, the whole damn system is guilty," and "Andy did not have to die."
Meanwhile, authorities were imploring people not to bring replica rifles to the Tuesday events, as they said some did last week. An unknown number of demonstrators brought fake guns to some of the vigils to protest the death of Andy Lopez - a boy who was killed carrying a gun that resembled an assault rifle - and at least one person waved one around "in a threatening manner," creating "unnecessary risks for all involved," Santa Rosa police said in a statement.
The grief and outrage over Andy, hit with seven bullets fired by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy on Oct. 22, has spilled beyond the small North Bay city of Santa Rosa, where the Lawrence Middle School student lived.
In Oakland on Tuesday, for example, buses left at 8 a.m. to drive people the 50-or-so miles to Santa Rosa. Many were part of the group Justice 4 Alan Blueford, in memory of the 18-year-old who died in an officer-involved shooting in Oakland last May. Most on board backed Andy and his family.
"They always justify the killing," Dionne Smith of Oakland said; her 16-year-old was also killed two years ago by police.
"This was a tragedy," said Debra Mendoza of Alameda. "That could have been my son."
Even though emotions have been running high, "March for Andy" organizers asked their Facebook community to "not let things get out of hand for the respect of the family."
Evelyn Sustaita, a student at Santa Rosa Junior College, told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday that the intent of the rallies are to "support the family, have the investigation be transparent and be as peaceful as possible." She said she did not see any replica rifles during Tuesday's rally.
Santa Rosa city councilwoman Julie Combs said she thought it was good for young people to "express their anger in a safe way," and she wanted to let them know the politicians were out to hear them.
While community members at the Santa Rosa vigils - held every day since Andy died - have been vocal about their outrage, there are others, who are more quietly backing the deputy who did the shooting in particular, and police in general. They argue that no one should walk around town with a rifle - real or fake - and should heed an officer's commands.
The first demonstration kicked off with a rally at Old Courthouse Square, which then snaked down Mendocino Avenue to Santa Rosa Junior College before ending at the Sheriff's Office on Ventura Avenue. Several student groups from Santa Rosa Junior College, including the Second Chance Student Club, the Black Student Union, and MEChA, sponsored the demonstration. The noon protest preceded another 3 p.m. protest at the Sheriff's Office, and Andy Lopez's funeral at 5 p.m.
On Monday, the sheriff's office confirmed the deputy who fired the seven shots was Erick Gelhaus, 48, a 24-year-veteran of the force, who is also a firearms expert, Iraq War veteran, and a regular contributor to magazines and blogs that tackle gun issues. In Nov. 2008 SWAT magazine article titled "Ambush Reaction in the Kill Zone," Gelhaus wrote about how you need to stay "in the kill zone" or "bad things will happen to you."
In order to do that, he wrote, "you must take some kind of action" and find your "mean gene." (PDF) He has declined media requests.
Just after 3:14 p.m. that day, Gelhaus opened fire when he saw Andy, with his back to the deputies, begin to turn toward him, the barrel of the rifle rising, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Santa Rosa police, which have been conducting the investigation into the death, said Andy was ordered twice to drop his weapon.
Gelhaus fired eight times. And Andy’s body was struck with seven bullets, the coroner stated, which were shot within 26 seconds, according to a timeline provided by police.
Gelhaus' partner, who has not been identified, authorities said, did not fire his weapon.
NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith and Jean Elle contributed to this report.