Thursday, December 2, 2010
Communities south east of downtown San Diego were devastated two years ago by a gang-related, double homicide. The victims: Two teenagers who were rising stars at their schools. Residents and students will remember the two young teens this Sunday, and call for an end to gang violence.
A typical weekend night turned into tragedy on Dec. 6th 2008.
Monique Palmer and Michael Taylor were walking home with friends around 1 a.m. from a house party in Valencia Park, a tough neighborhood in southeast San Diego.
Police say two gang members walked up to the group and fired shots.
Monique died on the spot. She was 17.
Michael died at a hospital soon after. He was 15.
These teenagers came from poor yet close, loving families.
Monique’s mom, Tracey Swafford, is still struggles with her grief two years later.
“My daughter was so much like me,” Swafford said. “I used to tell my daughter about how I wish I had a million dollars so I could clean up this (neighborhood). I didn't think my daughter was listening, but she was listening.”
Palmer was involved in several student clubs at Lincoln High School, including the step-dance team and student council. She just got accepted into Cal State University Los Angeles when she was killed.
Michael was a talented athlete at Point Loma High School. He was a freshman who already earned a spot on the varsity football team.
Michael’s mom, Denise Saunders, says she’s turned to her faith for comfort.
“I guess that's the way God wanted,” Saunders said. “This is the way it’s got to be … (God) will let me know when things are going to be alright.”
These mothers say another source of comfort has been the San Diego Compassion Project. Community members formed the group shortly after Michael and Monique were killed. The group helps families who've lost loved ones due to gang violence.
“We’re not there to just help the family get through this. We’re here to go through this with them,” said Rene Colon, a local pastor who volunteers with the San Diego Compassion Project.
Colon says a double homicide involving young people was not the first for this community. He says too many teenagers have become victims of gang violence in southeast San Diego.
San Diego police say more than half of the city’s street gangs live in this area. Two of the gangs are notoriously violent.
Colon says San Diego police offer crisis counseling to families immediately after a tragedy, but families are on their own after a few weeks. Colon says the San Diego Compassion Project is there for the long haul. Six churches help to provide ongoing counseling.
“Life and death is a spiritual thing,” Colon said. “We live in a fallen world … and things happen. We are there to help them allow God to help them heal.”
Colon says many families suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
Tasha Williamson is also with community project. She helps families find money to bury or cremate loved ones.
“Many of the families don’t have life insurance because they don’t believe, as many of us don't believe, that we’re going to get that phone call,” Tasha said. “So when we go through that process of burying their children, we have to find the resources, but there are not many out there.”
Recent data show gang-related homicides are down in San Diego, but gang-related assaults remain about the same.
Monique Palmer’s mom, Tracey Swafford, says every day gets a little better for her. She says she feels Monique cheering her on.
“Some days I beat myself up and I don't want to do anything. But then I her say, ‘Get up mom! Stop beating yourself up mom! Look at yourself in the mirror!’”
The San Diego Compassion Project will mark the two year anniversary of Monique Palmer and Michael Taylor’s deaths on Sunday in Valencia Park. The volunteers have now helped more than 30 families, however organizers say they are in desperate need of more volunteers, counselors and donations to help families.