Family and hundreds of friends and classmates, their parents, and staff of Vaughn International Studies Academy (VISA) gathered on Monday, Nov. 28, to bid a final farewell to a young man who was killed while riding a bicycle to the Pacoima School two weeks earlier.
As mariachi music resonated throughout Saint Ferdinand’s Parish in San Fernando, the burgundy-colored casket carrying the body of 15-year-old Saul Lopez entered the church filled to capacity for the occasion.
Many students at Saul’s school, didn’t show up to class that day. Others did first go to school, then had their parents take them out of class to attend the funeral held early in the morning.
At the entrance to the church, the coffin was draped with a white cover as the priest led it to begin the mass. Many in the crowd — some wearing white shirts with the face of Saul on the front — openly cried. Others were teary. The silence and respect was palpable.
On Nov. 15, at around 7 a.m., Saul headed to school on a bicycle. At the intersection of Glenoaks Boulevard and Vaughn Street, a pickup truck heading south on Glenoaks collided with a Chevrolet pickup heading east on Vaughn. The impact caused both trucks to slide through the crosswalk, hitting Saul and pinning him. He was eventually freed, but tragically succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.
The accident remains under investigation, and initial reports said that one of the drivers ran a red light at the intersection.
At the funeral mass on Monday, Carlos Alarcon, associate pastor at Saint Ferdinand’s, summed up the tragedy by calling it a “death out of time.”
“This is one of them. Totally out of time. There is no illness, no logical reason, it was simply an accident. We’re not here to place blame on anyone,” Alarcon said.
The priest praised the “great and beautiful solidarity” with Saul’s family, and urged those present to remember the teenager, who was a 10th grader at VISA, not in the way he died but “the way he lived and lives in each one of us.”
“Unique And Special”
Alarcon noted that, in speaking with Saul’s parents and family, he came to understand that the adolescent was a “unique and special person” as a son, brother, classmate and friend.
“That’s what we need to remember in order to make sense of death,” the priest said.
“Saul was authentic and true to himself. He gave us many examples of how to be correct. In the midst of all these questions we have at this time, that’s a living testimony to remember. We must be grateful that we got to meet him,” Alarcon said.
One of those who is grateful to have known him is Edgar Onofre, one of Saul’s classmates and friend.
“He always tried to make everyone feel better. He didn’t like anybody feeling sad. He was really funny, even if he insulted you. He made sure you laughed along with him,” said Onofre.
After receiving the Eucharist, many of Saul’s friends approached the family and gave them a hug.
At the end of the service, Saul’s parents, older brother and younger sister went up to the lectern and thanked those who attended. The mother also read a small passage where she said that “Heaven is celebrating today,” and repeated — at the beginning and the end — that “God gave me a son and he took an angel.”
“I want to thank all of you for coming. And for all your support. Like he said when he was a child and watched his cartoons, ‘To infinity and beyond I’ll follow and Chivas to eternity,” said the mother, in reference to one of Saul’s greatest loves — the soccer team Chivas de Guadalajara.
The attendees then raised and gave Saul a standing ovation with a great applause.
As it came out of the church, the white cover on the coffin was substituted for a Chivas flag. One of his relatives also carried a soccer jersey that belonged to Saul and showed his split love in sports. Half of the shirt was the black jersey of the Mexican national soccer team; the other the white, red and blue of Chivas.
Go Fund Me and Traffic Safety
Soon after learning of his death, a teacher at VISA opened a GoFundMe account to raise funds to help the family cover the funeral costs for Saul. The initial goal was $15,000, but in 13 days that figure was doubled to $30,075, thanks to 855 donations.
Among those who donated was Blanca Santillan.
“I remember Saul as a kind, generous, friendly, smart young boy. He will be missed!” wrote Santillan, Saul’s pre-school teacher at Haddon Elementary School in Pacoima.
Saul’s death also brought renewed calls for traffic safety in the area where he lost his life, barely two blocks away from his school.
A “ghost bike” (a bicycle painted in white) surrounded by flowers and candles now marks the spot of the tragedy. Since the accident, a crossing guard was assigned there, helping students and parents cross the street in the early morning hours and after school.
Parents, who have been asking for higher traffic attention to the locale, home to four schools (Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, VISA, Pandaland and Vaughn MIT) also placed homemade signs at the corner of Herrick Avenue and Vaughn Street right in the middle of all these campuses, asking drivers to be careful.
“Please slow down. They are all our children,” the yellow signs read.