VALLEJO, Calif. - A Vallejo mother is turning grief into giving after the murder of her son.
Sonya Mitchell is hosting a community party on Sunday, September 26, exactly a year after she buried Daimon Ferguson, 23.
From childhood, he went by the nickname Dada.
"My son was loving, my son was caring, my son was my life," said Mitchell, "and when I lost Dada my whole world ended."
Mitchell spoke from her living room, where every inch is covered with new toys and other goodies for children Mitchell has yet to meet.
Friday evening, her home was bustling with activity, as friends and family members organized gifts and tee shirts, bicycles and treats for the celebration at Blue Rock Springs Park.
"I'm calling it Dada's Kid Day from Heaven," explained Mitchell.
"We'll have carnival games, bouncy houses, face-painting, cotton candy, and all these toys to make the kids so happy."
She bought the first toys with her own money, then as word spread, donations helped grow the memorial celebration.
Mitchell has reserved an area near the children's playground, and all families are welcome, with no RSVP needed.
"Whoever comes, I'm going to welcome you and I don't care who you are because I've gotten past hating and being mad for 365 days."
The night he was killed Ferguson was visiting his older sister, not far from his mom's house.
Standing outside at about midnight, he was shot multiple times by shooters in a passing car.
His family believes it was mistaken identity and the bullets were not intended for him.
"I was devastated by the death of my son and just the thought of how he died, his very last minutes," says Mitchell, recalling that no ambulance came when the family repeatedly called 911.
In desperation, she drove her son to Sutter Solano Medical Center herself, only to find no one at the emergency entrance to help her.
"My son is a gunshot victim, I need to get my son out of the car," Mitchell is heard on video pleading with security guards.
"He may be losing his life, I want you to see this," she screams in a panic, as Ferguson falls from the passenger seat to the pavement.
After several minutes paramedics arrive and wheel Ferguson into the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
But Mitchell will always wonder how her final moments with him might have been different.
"With one more minute for my son to live, I could have told him I loved him," she says tearfully.
"I could have held him and rocked him, but instead I was begging people to help me and they were saying it was not their job."
She has never received an acknowledgment or apology from the hospital.
"And so I live with that."
Mitchell has been comforted by an outpouring of support from the community and people who knew Ferguson.
"He went to all Vallejo schools and graduated from high school, a football player at Jesse Bethel High," says his mom, who keeps a display case full of mementos from Ferguson's childhood.
"He was going to college and working at Lowe's," she added, "not a perfect kid but a good kid and he had good manners."
The suspects crashed their car and ran away moments after shooting Ferguson.
In time, 4 people were identified, tracked out-of-state, arrested and jailed.
But they were released, and Mitchell was told there was insufficient evidence.
She refuses to be bitter.
"I have to forgive because if I don't forgive I'm going to be like those other people."
Ferguson's murder was one of 28 in Vallejo in 2020, more than double the previous year.
So far in 2021, there have been 14.
"Just this week, three," said Mitchell, "and I don't know what's going on but it starts inside our families, it starts in our houses."
She hopes Sunday's party, from 2 pm - 7:30, sends a message of hope and unity.
Mitchell intends to speak with every child who receives a gift.
"No matter what justice Dada gets or doesn't get, they will not steal the joy from those kids," she declared, "because they will remember Dada's Kids Day from Heaven for as long as they live."