FAIRFIELD — Nearly 11 months after her son was killed, Vernalisa Gutierrez is still looking for justice.
Justice for Jessie.
Jessie Amaya, 20, was shot and killed Feb. 1 while walking home on Hayes Street. Two men are in custody awaiting trial, but the suspected shooter is still at large.
For Amaya’s mother, four brothers and other family members, there won’t be justice until the man responsible for Jessie’s death is found and put in prison.
“I’m not going to give up. If I don’t say anything, people will forget,” said Gutierrez. “I just started out by saying, ‘I want justice for Jessie.’ ”
That phrase has been taken up by the family, who hope to keep Amaya’s memory alive and dissuade others from violence.
A group of 40 people will help Mission Solano serve meals Monday at its annual Christmas event. They will be wearing shirts and other gear sporting the slogan, much like Amaya’s twin brothers, who were wearing matching ball caps recently.
It’s the younger generation that Gutierrez hopes picks up the message that violence is never the answer.
“This isn’t the way I want my kids to learn,” she said. “I don’t want them to live like that.”
Acknowledging her son “wasn’t perfect,” Gutierrez said Amaya may have had association with those in gangs, but her son was not a gang member. Police have maintained that the incident is gang-related.
She said with a baby weeks from being born, Amaya started to listen to her about straightening up. She had been taking him to work at a processing plant in Vacaville, adjusting her own schedule to make sure he always had a ride.
Her daughter-in-law, Cassandra Amaya, said many of the children and people in the neighborhood call Gutierrez “P-O,” as in parole officer, for her penchant to come down hard when kids misbehaved.
“Jessie was getting to that point. He was getting ready,” Gutierrez said. “I told him, ‘This is what you have to do. You have to be a man.’ ”
Another lesson she tried to teach her children was to volunteer. Gutierrez said she first volunteered with Mission Solano as part of community service for a traffic ticket she received. From then on, she and her children were fixtures as volunteers.
“I told them, ‘When you look for a job, they’re going to hire you if you show you will work for free,’ ” she said. “I think it’s cool that the younger kids want to do it.”
As the days pass, she continues to press on. Gutierrez said the support from Fairfield police, friends, family and even strangers helps her get by.
One of those who helps is Raymond Courtemanche, the stepfather of slain City Councilman Matt Garcia. Knowing what it’s like to lose a child, Courtemanche said that unifying for a cause helps with the recovery.
“This injustice is not acceptable in this community,” he said. “That’s why this is a magnet. We keep going forward.”
Gutierrez said Garcia’s mother, Teresa Courtemanche, is a longtime friend who she continues to lean on.
“Now I know exactly what she went through. Nobody knows unless you’ve been through it,” Gutierrez said. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.