Lindsay mother sheds light on gang violence
Michael Avalos somehow knew his death was near. So much so, that he left a letter found by his mother, Tammie Mitchell after his death. In the letter he stated, “If I end up dead, I want you to know I love you and my spirit will be at my grandparent’s house in Strathmore.”
Avalos was murdered on Sept. 14, 2012 in Lindsay. Two suspects, Joshua Stepp, 23, and Nathan Hunt, 20, both of Lindsay have been arrested in the case. Police believe the murder was gang related. The investigation is still ongoing.
“He was getting out of the gang,” Mitchell said, “and he knew they would not just let him go.”
Mitchell, with the help of Mothers United Against Gang Violence, held a candlelight vigil Saturday night at the Strathmore Veterans Memorial Building for Avalos and others in the area whose family members and friends have been victims to gang violence.
“We are just trying to reach out and make people more aware of what’s going on in their community,” said Mitchell.
“I did everything possible as a mother,” Mitchell said. “I stayed in his business, hunted him down, took his cell phone, there is no such thing as privacy when you are worried about the safety of your child.”
Mitchell regrets the one thing she did not do.
“If I had it to do all over again, I would have just moved away from here,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell suggests that parents stay active in their child’s lives.
“Give them a curfew, know where they are at and get to know the friends they are hanging out with,” she said.
Mitchell wants people to know that Avalos is not just a statistic.
“He was my son,” she said. “He was fun-loving and outgoing. He was always cracking jokes. He was always there for his family.”
Mitchell also wants to help the youth of Strathmore by getting a Boys and Girls Club in town.
“We have attended school board meetings to see what can be done to get something here for the youth,” she said.
Mitchell is looking for all the help she can get with the project and ask those interested to call her at 568-5464 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Martinez is the founder of Mothers United Against Gang Violence. She started the organization when her son, Francisco “Frank” Martinez was murdered on April 8th, 2003 in Porterville. Frank had moved away from the area to get away from the gangs and make a fresh start in life. He was planning on attending school to be a paramedic. He had returned to Porterville to visit his six week old daughter who had pneumonia.
“I was going to pick him up Sunday afternoon,” said Mary Martinez, “but I received that call that no parent wants to get. I could not believe it; I had just spoken with him 35 minutes earlier.”
Martinez said she believes her son was shot by four gang members for an initiation.
“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.
Mothers United Against Gang Violence has a Facebook page or can be contacted at 559-202-8158 or email@example.com
Maria Sanchez has operated La Tienda Market in Strathmore for 40 years and did not give it a second thought when someone wanted in after she had locked the doors on September, 1 2006.
“She was like that,” said her daughter Adele Sanchez. “She just thought someone needed something, but she opened the door to the wrong people.”
Robbers entered the store demanded money, which Maria gave to them. They then shot and killed her. No suspects have been arrested in the case.
“She had already given them the money,” said Adele, “but they could not leave without taking one more thing. They took my mother. If God commands me I will forgive them, but it’s hard. I miss her every day.”
A $26,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of suspects in the case. Those with any information are asked to call 733-6523 or 1-800-808-0488.
Irma Vasquez lost her son, Vincent Ramirez, on December 8, 2004 to a drive-by shooting in Porterville. No one has been arrested for the murder that happened at around 3:30pm on Putnam Ave.
“I cannot believe that no one saw anything in broad day light,” said Sanchez. “I do take comfort in the fact that a Good Samaritan led my son in the Sinner’s Prayer and ask him if he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior and with his last breath he said ‘yes’.”
Pastor Lloyd Johnson said it was time for fathers, brothers, grandfathers and uncles to man up.
“We have to let them know that it does not make you a man to strap on a gun,” said Johnson. “Children will do what you do, not what you say. It all starts at home.”
Lloyd also stated that children are bullied into joining gangs.
“Bullying is when a child feels like they have no voice,” Johnson said. “So we have to be their voice.”
Daniel Longoria spent a lot of his adult life in prison, but on June 6, 1996 he got out and changed his life. He now works with youth to turn their lives around.
“I mended my relationship with my family, like these young men never got to,” he said. “I also learned that religious people were those afraid of going to hell and spiritual people are those who have gone through hell. I am standing, living proof that you can change.”
Longoria feels like the deaths will not be in vain.
“The people not here are making the biggest difference,” he said. “God will use it to change things. God never ends anything with a negative.”