FAIRFIELD — Trying to turn tragedy into something positive.
That was the theme of the latest Justice for Jessie event held Saturday at Allan Witt Park to commemorate Jesus “Jessie” Amaya who was gunned down in a robbery-turned-homicide Feb. 1, 2012.
Amaya’s family and friends have since been trying to turn his death into a call for positive change in Fairfield and bring an end to the cycle of violence that claimed his life.
With a barbecue lunch, music, fun and games, Amaya’s mother, Vernalisa Gutierrez, and a small army of friends and family got together to show young people there is a better way and that they can become a force for positive change.
“This is not only in memory of my son. It’s not only justice for Jessie, but it’s justice for all these kids,” Gutierrez said.
In August 2013, Miguel Bastida, a 20-year-old Fairfield gang member, was convicted in Amaya’s slaying, though he was not the trigger man. That suspect, Mario Vasquez, remains at large, and police believe he may have fled to Mexico shortly after the shooting.
Along with music and food, Gutierrez had representatives of the Matt Garcia Foundation, Mission Solano and Operation T.H.U.G.S. on hand to speak to those gathered.
“Larry Blueford and Operation T.H.U.G.S. is going to be out here and they’ll be talking to the kids. I’m not going to lie, there’s probably a few of them that need it,” Gutierrez said of the group that mentors young people and tries to steer them away from life on the streets.
Raffle prizes were also available, many donated by local businesses.
“A lot of people donated. H&R Block, Hometown Buffet, Red Robin, they all know our family,” Gutierrez said.
“I really want it to be positive,” she continued. “I’m not only hurting for my child, I have friends.”
Gutierrez said she went to school with the mother of Terrell Brumfield, who was shot to death the night of Jan. 3 at the Parkway Gardens condominium complex.
“It’s not only for my child, it’s for anybody’s child,” Gutierrez said, who also grew up with Theresa Courtemanche, mother of slain Fairfield City Councilman Matt Garcia.
Echoes of the cycle of violence the family is trying to stop are everywhere.
Gutierrez also said that the celebration was being held on the anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Genelle Renee Conway-Allen, whose body was discovered at Allan Witt Park, not far from where the gathering took place.
“For us, it’s a slap in the face every time we open up the paper and find out another kid has been murdered,” said Minnie Giron, Gutierrez’s sister and Amaya’s aunt.
“All these guys that are here now, I grew up with them, but I always had someone there to make sure I go the right way,” said Eddie Gumataotao, a longtime friend of Amaya’s. “You just got to realize it’s not worth it. We lost somebody, but you can always make a change. It starts with one person and everybody will get out of it.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.