Hundreds of families packed into the Longfellow Middle School cafeteria Monday night to honor and remember Berkeley High School brothers Jazy Sotelo Garcia, 17, and Angel Sotelo Garcia, 15, who were killed in a shooting Saturday night while attending a classmate’s birthday party.
In front of a table heaped with candles, cards and flowers, the boys’ mother, Maria Garcia, and their younger brother, Josue, 14, sat flanked by dozens more family members and a sea of neighbors, former classmates and friends.
“My name is Josue, they were my brothers,” began the 14-year-old — now the oldest sibling to brothers ages 9, 6 and 3 — breathing through tears. “I know we all miss them — there’s a lot of pain in my mom, my family, my friends. But I know they wouldn’t like to see us like this.”
“This is a wake-up call. They’d want us to get better, they’d want us to succeed, be something good in life,” he said before sitting back down with his mother, who he leaned against and held close for most of the evening.
The large room was packed with people who had known the brothers since Jazy started elementary school at Sylvia Mendez Elementary School (then known as LeConte). And the parents of her sons’ friends showered Garcia with gratitude for warmly welcoming their children into her home.
Garcia came to the mic with Josue, who hugged her tightly as she spoke. She said she always loved having her children’s friends over, and that she felt most comfortable when they were all together.
“Veo a todos los muchachos aquí y en ellos veo a mis hijos,” Garcia said. “No me importaba la hora que fueran a visitar a mis hijos, yo siempre les abría la puerta. Y siempre les decía, los prefiero aquí, prefiero saber que estén aquí adentro conmigo.”
(“I see all the boys here and in them I see my children. I didn’t care what time they went to visit my children, I always opened the door for them. And I always told them, I prefer you here, I prefer to know that you are in here with me.”)
She was on her way to pick up the boys and their friends from the party when she received calls about the shooting on Saturday night. She said Jazy never responded to tell her the location of the party, and she learned what happened soon after.
Garcia repeatedly expressed her gratitude for the community’s outpouring of love and support on Monday, and described her loss.
“Quisiera que esto fuera un sueño, porque los voy a extrañar hasta para pelear,” Garcia said. “Porque aunque los quería como hijos, nos llevábamos como hermanos. Con ellos yo podia jugar, me sentía como muchacha. Eramos muy cercanos.”
(“I wish this was a dream, because I’m going to miss them, even to fight with them. Even though I loved them as my children, we were friends. They made me feel like a girl again, we were very close.”)
Jazy, Angel and Josue — each apart by two years — were a tight-knit trio, according to Jazy’s friends, mostly juniors at Berkeley High. The group often hung out at the Garcia home, and said Jazy was a loving, protective brother and friend.
Jazy enjoyed soccer and rapper Baby Tron and was calm, quiet and joyful. Gathered outside the vigil on Monday night, a group of his friends warmly described him as “the dad of the group,” and joked that though he was quieter, he was the “group leader.”
Speaker after speaker described Angel as always having a smile on his face, and readily making others laugh.
“They would always bring people together, especially in elementary school,” one friend, Abraham, said of the brothers. “We watched each other grow up in that way, just joyful play.”
Among the friends gathered at the vigil were four others who had attended the party with Jazy and Angel. One said he was traumatized by the experience, and another boy recounted the harrowing moment of learning in a group text that his friends were gone.
“What I want people to realize is, everything comes and goes,” the friend said. “One day you’ll get to see each other and the next day you won’t.”
“I miss them so much … and it’s hard [knowing] I won’t see [Jazy] in fifth period, coming in late with a big ass smile on his face,” another friend added. “Having to wake up now, knowing that they’re gone, it just hurts. It makes me sick to my stomach. I wish I’d get to see them again.”
Teachers and school leaders also took the microphone, the messages alternating between English and Spanish.
Aarón Lechuga, a restorative justice coordinator at Longfellow who remains close with the family, asked the crowd to focus on this question: “What would Angel and Jayz want for us?”
In the days following the shooting, the school community had wrapped around the family. Lechuga, along with other staff at Longfellow and parents from Latinos Unidos de Berkeley, had helped put the vigil together and get the word out. Hector Malvido, a Latinos Unidos parent, was among those who helped support the family, while others stepped in to provide bilingual mental healthcare at BUSD.
Enikia Ford Morthel, Berkeley Unified’s superintendent, offered a personal message of comfort to the family. “I know that it is hard right now. So I pray for you,” Ford Morthel said. “I pray for you ever since I got that call and I will continue to pray for the comfort and the peace that only God can provide.”
Others emphasized turning grief into action to put an end to gun violence. “We must put an end to vigils like this and it’s going to take us using this pain and turning it into some sort of victory for someone else,” said Laura Babitt, vice president of the Berkeley school board.
A slideshow with childhood photos of the two brothers, projected on the cafeteria wall, played on a loop. In one photograph from 2017, Jazy is attending a protest at Longfellow Middle School against gun violence. He holds up a sign reading, “Guns cannot drive out hate, only LOVE can do that.”
Cheryl Wilson, former Sylvia Mendez principal, leads a chant for the teens to move forward, together. pic.twitter.com/Fk2XPqxE6A— Supriya Yelimeli (@SupriyaYelimeli) October 4, 2022
Cheryl Wilson, the former principal at Sylvia Mendez, previously LeConte Elementary, led the teenagers in a chant about self-empowerment. “I promise myself,” they repeated after her, “that if I loved them, that if I cared about them, I will help their dreams come true by living the best life I can.”
In unison, the teenagers promised to keep themselves safe and not put anyone in danger. “I will not let the loss of their lives be in vain,” Wilson led.
After the vigil, a heaviness inside the building made way for a brief, lighter moment outside as teenagers milled around, remembering their best friends and de facto brothers, commemorating their lives with T-shirts and photographs taken arm-in-arm.
They inked white balloons with messages, hashtags and phrases like “Jazy and Angel’s World,” and scrawled down their memories together, while checking in on each other to see how they were holding up.
Berkeley High School is offering counseling services on campus, and students have planned additional memorials for the boys in days to come.
BUSD has shared the following resources for talking to children about violence and grief.
- Talking to Children When Violence Happens / Hablando Con los Ninos Cuando Sucede La Violencia
- Talking to Teens When Violence Happens / Hablando Con Los Adolescentes Cuando Sucede La Violencia
- Talking with Students about Shocking or Disturbing News
- Helping Youth after Community Trauma: Tips for Educators
- Well Being Practices: Gentle Reminders for Times of Stress / Prácticas Para El Bienestar: Breves Recordatorios para Tiempos de Estrés
- Creating Supportive Environments When Scary Things Happen / Creando Ambientes de Apoyo Cuando Suceden Hechos Alarmantes
- Sutter Health offers free grief and bereavement support services – you do not need to carry Sutter Health insurance membership to gain access to these resources. Find out more here.
- Talking to Children About Death | Psychology Today
- How to Talk to Kids About Death
- National Mental Health Crisis Hotline: 800-309-2131