January 4 -- Chanting softly in Spanish under a pale
full moon, scores of mourners Tuesday night filed into Virginia
Avenue Park, where, one week before, 20-year-old Miguel Angel
Martin lay mortally wounded in a concrete parking lot.
No police tape or bloodstains remained after Martin was shot
in the back last Wednesday night, running from his attackers.
Only candles placed in the shape of cross glowed at the base of
a construction sawhorse where he is thought to have collapsed.
|Father Mike Gutuirrez (center)
leads friends and family in prayer. (Photos by Olin Ericksen)
Flowers, pictures and messages saying "Bootsie" will
be missed adorned the makeshift memorial marking the second, and
final, fatality of simmering gang violence in Santa Monica's Pico
Neighborhood in 2006.
The family members and friends gathered at the memorial Tuesday
condemned the on-going violence that continues to wrack their
neighborhood, often resulting in dead or injured teens and young
lives lost to long prison sentences.
"Peace is what we ask for because of what happened,"
Father Mike Gutierrez of St. Anne's Church told the group in a
bilingual sermon, as several people fought back tears.
But mostly, they were there to console each other and remember
Miguel Martin as a young man robbed of any future chance to overcome
adversity and better himself.
"The way he saw his life, he wanted to make a change and
make something better out of it," said his younger half-sister
Marlyn Martin who attended the informal service, part of nine
days of mourning according to her family's Catholic heritage.
Diagnosed at the formative age of 16 with Lupus -- an autoimmune
disease that can cause painful rashes and swelling, fatigue and
spiked fevers -- Miguel wasn't always on the right path, his 17-year-old
"I know he had some problems” at Santa Monica High
School, Marlyn said.
Santa Monica's new Police Chief, Tim Jackman, who took office
December 11, reluctantly acknowledged that Martin was a "low-level
gang member," in an interview with The Lookout Wednesday.
While sensitive to his family’s mourning and acknowledging
that Martin was a victim trying to escape his killers the night
he was murdered, Jackman said his involvement in gangs may have
contributed to his death.
"If I simply say, 'Yes he was a gang member,' then people
will get the wrong impression of who he was," said Jackman.
"I can't afford to glorify gang life, but I can't afford
to have people think this was a sweet little innocent kid,”
the new police chief said. “Then again he's not this jerk
out here, really bad with an evil black heart."
|Crowd walks toward Virginia
Avenue Park, where Martin was fatally shot.
Still, to friends and family who remembered Martin, it was more
than a street name or gang identity that defined him.
Marlyn and several people who knew him said Miguel began working
towards his degree after transferring to Olympic High School,
widely seen as the next stop for academically troubled youth.
The work eventually led to a high school diploma, an achievement
Miguel and his family were very proud of, those who knew him said.
"A lot of teachers from (Olympic) told me he was meant to
finish high school, and he did that," Marlyn said.
After high school, Martin, still teenager, worked construction
jobs, including one at the Santa Monica Airport.
"He went out and searched for those opportunities,"
Martin also worked construction jobs with his father, Lucia Martin.
The two had worked together on the day Miguel was shot walking
to a local Burger King to meet friends just adjacent to the newly
expanded Virginia Avenue Park.
"The day he passed away he actually took him to Topanga
to work with him," said Marlyn.
|Lucia Martin (back turned) prays for
"He had a really nice relationship with my father,"
she said. "There's a lot of folks that don't have that bond
with their parents…especially in the Pico Neighborhood where
there are many single-parent families.
"My dad used to support him with everything," she said.
Still, police said, even as he graduated high school, kept up
what seemed to be healthy family relations and worked to provide
himself with better economic opportunities, Miguel remained inside
"He's been more slipping toward the gang life than coming
out of it," Jackman said. "Yes he was a gang member,
but please understand we have huge issues attached to it."
Now, Miguel's father and family are left behind to pick up the
pieces of the reoccurring violence.
"Sometimes people say, "Oh, it's just a gang member
that got shot,' and maybe that's true, but they have a family
too, and that's what really tugs at your heartstrings," Jackman
It is not up to law enforcement or the City to halt the gang
slayings, Marlyn said, but it is the young men themselves who
are involved in gangs who must look for a way out.
"There's a lot of opportunities out there and I think there's
a lot of guys who just go around and hang out, and I think they
should just try to become better people," she said.
"There is a lot of opportunities out there and they should
just take advantage of it."
Marlyn and several other young people who knew Miguel -- a frequent
visitor to Virginia Avenue Park's youth center -- said they will
be taking advantage of counseling provided by the City through
Those who wish to help the family with funeral costs should contact
Father Mike Gutierrez at St. Anne's Catholic Church. Two masses
are planned for Friday at 7 a.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. at the
church at 2017 Colorado Avenue. Those interested in attending should
contact St. Anne's for more details at 310.829.4411.