Andy Lopez' family say they never saw justice for son killed by deputy
SANTA ROSA, Calif. - About 50 people attended a vigil Friday night for teenager Andy Lopez, fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy 8 years ago.
"We miss everything, his smile, he was a beautiful boy," said his mother Sujey Lopez, placing flowers at a permanent memorial in Andy Lopez Park, at Moorland and West Robles Avenue in Santa Rosa.
"Can you imagine living without your son for eight years already?" added Andy's father Rodrigo Lopez.
"It's really bad, it's really sad."
Andy Lopez was 13. Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erik Gelhaus shot and killed him as Lopez walked home along Moorland Avenue.
Lopez was carrying an airsoft rifle, and Gelhaus said he mistook it for a real weapon and fired on the child seconds after shouting at him from a distance.
Lopez was shot seven times.
When Gelhaus was cleared of wrongdoing, protests erupted in Sonoma County.
A special task force was created to develop law enforcement reforms and accountability.
"Andy was a child, not a grown adult, and he wasn't pointing a gun at anybody," said Karina Flores, a neighborhood parent whose nieces were friends with Andy.
"That sheriff was driving by, and not standing or anywhere to be in danger from a play gun, a toy."
After Andy's death, his parents and 3 siblings moved away from the neighborhood.
Coming back for the vigil is both painful and comforting, as old friends greeted them with hugs of support.
But the couple worries that what happened to their son could still happen to any child in the working-class neighborhood.
"I feel sad and very worried for everyone here in the community," said Sujey Lopez, "for the children and the teenagers who are on the streets."
Andy would be 21 now, and those gathered for prayers and music reflected on his life, and promise, unfulfilled.
Local leaders say his killing spurred conversations about profiling and community policing.
"Perhaps if the deputy had known the neighborhood better, knew Andy and his friends, and knew who typically walked the streets, then maybe there would have been a different response," said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers.
"Things are different now because people are speaking up, people are demanding to be heard," said Santa Rosa City Council member Eddie Alvarez, who represents the Moorland neighborhood and has deep roots there.
While Alvarez is inspired to see children enjoying a playground on the street where Andy died, he admits the tragedy is an open wound.
"The deputy was promoted and then he retired with his pension," said Alvarez, "and Andy got worms and dirt and his parents got a lifetime of suffering."
The Lopez family settled a civil lawsuit the Sonoma County for $3 million a few years ago.
But with no consequences for Gelhaus, they say there has been no justice.
"I wake up, I don't see Andy, I come home from work, I don't see him, and it's hard to live like that," said Rodrigo Lopez.
"I don't know how we stand up every day and keep living life, going on."
Many in the crowd did not know Andy personally, but feel he leaves a powerful legacy for the community.
"Too many black and brown people end up like this, " said local civil rights activist Ken Duncan.
"Some people don't know the Andy Lopez story, but they know the Trayvon Martin story or they know the George Floyd story, and this is the same story, just pain for a different family."