Just Another Roadside Distraction

Anatomy of a murder on Beacon Avenue

Seferino will watch his daughter to ensure she can answer in earnest, "No, I am not scared," though both, in fact, are. One man will watch Raquel for several days and will tell her that he would date her if only he was a little bit younger. He will boldly place his head on her knee, frightening Raquel for the final time. She will call her father, who will, in turn, warn this man, "The people in this neighborhood won't be so forgiving of you, they won't hold a vigil for you." By the end of her 10th day, Raquel will have raised $4,300 for funeral expenses in relative peace under Seferino's watchful eye.

Thirteen days after Chico's murder, on Sept. 24, Seferino and Raquel will organize a march to draw media attention in hopes of stopping the violence in their neighborhood. One hundred and forty people—neighbors, activists and students—will march. Their path will cross the sites of the four murders that occurred in this neighborhood and will end at the Agape House of Prayer on North Manchester. At the church, Seferino and Raquel will see they've drawn a sizable crowd, and together they will finally yell, Ya Basta!

Standing around Chico's body, Julia and Seferino saw the first police car pull up. An officer got out of the passenger side, a young Mexican woman who yelled at them, "Get out of the street! Go to the other side."

Seferino, Raquel and Cuauhtťmoc Garcia at the place their march against death ended. Photo by Matt Otto

Both Julia and Seferino were horrified, but not surprised. Julia lost faith in the Anaheim police department 24 years ago, the night two men broke into her home. A man with a tattoo under his eye and missing teeth sliced her nightshirt and brassiere with his knife. She offered them what little money she had. When they left, Julia took her chance to climb through a window and ran to a neighbor's house to call the police. Her daughter was still in her house. By the time the police reached her house, the men were gone, leaving her daughter for dead in their bathtub. Her daughter lived, and Julia could have easily identified the assailants if the police had provided her with photographs of suspects. When they offered, however, Julia chose not to identify the men. She too had mean sons, capable of violence. A family friend told Julia that he knew the two men. Julia never told the police. They had a habit of revealing their sources.

The Mexican cop's behavior and disrespect was something Julia had learned to associate with the police department.

*   *   *

The policewoman separated Chico from his neighbors. Julia watched, knowing he was dead, but she still felt the police could at least let Chico's friend stay by his side. It would comfort the mother she had never met to know her son did not lie alone.

Chico was left alone, his eyes and mouth closed. There was no cinematic pool of blood, just a small stain on his shirt around the bullet hole, and the prints Julia had left when she wiped her hands. Julia had done what she could to bring him dignity in his death, just as Seferino will do what he can to bring their entire community dignity.

Seferino watched five more patrol cars pull up to the scene. They blocked off traffic on both Walnut and Beacon. He watched as the cops began their investigation. It took the paramedics another 10 minutes to arrive. At nearly 2 a.m., almost four hours after the shooting, Seferino walked back to his house as the ambulance took Chico to the morgue.

*   *   *

It will be another two hours before Francisco Betancourt Celis' mother will be notified of his death.

*   *   *

Two days later, The Orange County Register will run a half-inch story on Chico's murder, "Bicyclist Shot to Death in Anaheim." The news crews Seferino alerted that evening will never cover the story. The Los Angeles Timesreporter will call him two weeks later and tell him there isn't anything significant about Chico's murder. And as The Orange County Register tells it, there wasn't:

"A bicyclist was shot to death Sunday night during a confrontation with a group of men, police reported. Francisco Betancourt Celis, 23, of Anaheim was riding south on Walnut Street near Beacon Avenue about 11 p.m. when he and a friend were confronted by the occupants of a four-door burgundy-colored car. The argument ended when the car stopped and one of the occupants got out and fired into Celis' chest before fleeing, police said. His companion was not hurt."

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