Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Heartbreak: Juan Castillo, age 19

Juan Sebastian Castillo 

It happened after midnight, in the wee hours of Sunday morning in light rain.

Juan Sebastian Castillo was on Pico Blvd. near 21st Street, perhaps walking home from a party.  He was 19 years old.

Gunshots were reported at 12:45 am in that area of Santa Monica.




I was asleep in my home near 16th and Pico, as was my guest, Carolyn.  We had just shared a day of singing Carolyn's music with 27 other women at a United Church of Christ in Simi Valley.

We rose early, just after 6 am, to get her to the airport to catch her 9 am flight.

An hour earlier, at 5:08 am, Juan had been found lying on the ground in the 1300 block of 16th Street, not far from UCLA-Santa Monica Hospital.  He had head injuries, including a single gunshot wound to the head.  Emergency responders pronounced him dead, and detectives from the Santa Monica Police Department arrived.

Carolyn boarded her plane, and I drove to Claremont to share in a Women-Church liturgy with friends.  On Monday morning I head the news.

Juan had graduated in June, 2016, from Santa Monica High School, where two of my kids had graduated in 2003 and 2005.

He'd just passed a test to enlist in the military, hoping to become a Marine and make his family proud.  Meanwhile he was working for the Burger King at Pico and 20th Street.  He lived with his family nearby.  His older brother is a student at San Francisco State University.

“I want some answers. But I haven’t heard anything. He was my life,” the victim’s father, Jorge Castillo, said as he tried to hold back tears.


Juan was not a member of any gang, according to friends and family members, but the Pico neighborhood is home to a gang, and taggings by the rival Sawtelle gang had been seen in this area in recent weeks.  There were several gang killings here in 2005 and 2006.

The odd thing was that Juan had no shoes on when he was found.

One friend speculated that the beating could have been a gang initiation gone awry.  In recent months he'd been hanging out with a friend described as "sketchy."

What caused the tragic death of this young man?  Families were sleeping all around.  Why was he targeted, but not my friend and I, two older white women?

Juan was the second Latino male shot and killed in Santa Monica this year, and the 52nd person killed since 2000, according to The Homicide Report kept by the Los Angeles Times.


When you read through the list, most of the victims are young black or Latino men.

What hard facts to grow up with or to raise a son with: 
  • "Homicide is the second leading cause of death for Latino men ages 15-24," reports Violence Policy Center.   
  • "The murder rate for Hispanics is twice the murder rate for whites," says Josh Sugarmann on the Huffington Post.


Similarly, murder is the number one cause of death for African-American males ages 15-34.
One in four African-American men will be imprisoned sometime during their lives.  (See the Netflix documentary 13th.)


Then there's the problem of officer-involved shootings of males, both Latino and African-American.


Here are some of the 52 people killed by guns in Santa Monica since 2000:

* Eduardo Lopez, age 15, February 28, 2006--eleven years ago today.  I know his mother.

* Christopher Lamont Hunter, age 21, d. Sept. 4, 2006.

* Miguel Angel Martin, age 20, d. Dec. 27, 2006.

* Jonathan Nicholas Hernandez, age 19, March 5, 2006.

* Hector Manuel Bonilla, age 25, March 5, 2006.

* John Everett Butler, age 18, August 28, 2004.

* Leon George Gomez, age 30, September 7, 2004.

* Jalonnie D. Carter, age 19, September 2, 2003.

* Benjamin Medina Jr., age 29, December 27, 2000.

Parents, social workers, and community activists in Santa Monica formed a Violence Prevention Coalition in 2003 after several deaths of high school students.  

Later the group blended into L.A. Voice, a part of the PICO National Network dedicated to improving life in communities around the US.



While volunteering with the Violence Prevention Coalition, I learned that early childhood education can be an important factor in preventing a child's later involvement in violence.

Juan Castillo attended Will Rogers Elementary School, three blocks from my house, and John Adams Middle School, where my kids went.  It's so sad that his young life ended in this way.

May we all work to prevent gun violence in our communities and nation.

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