A small group of community members gathered around a candle-lit picnic table at Columbia Park late Thursday night in an effort to stop the recent violence that has shook the neighborhood. Their method of change? Prayer.
"We're taking a stand the best way we know how," said Lydio Banana, youth director of Westside Ministries.
The nightly candlelight vigils, which began Dec. 30 and will continue through Sunday, were prompted by the fatal shooting of David Hernandez, 35, in the 800 block of South Avenue on Dec. 29. Ernesto Negrete, 20, of Turlock, was arrested for the shooting on Dec. 31. He was arraigned for murder, attempted murder, drug possession and participating in a criminal street gang on Thursday. He pled not guilty and has a court hearing scheduled for Jan. 11.
Members of the Columbia Park prayer group said they were out at the park way after dark in honor of the Hernandez family, but also in response to other crimes in the neighborhood.
"We're not going to let gang activity or drug usage happen here; we're not going to stand for it," said Banana.
There's a lot of nighttime activity at Columbia Park, said Joe DiGrazia, co-founder and director of Westside Ministries. During the day the park is a place for children to play, but at night youths and adults gather in different areas to plan criminal acts, he said.
Main Street resident Joel Murphy attended Thursday's vigil to find peace. He and his family returned from a holiday trip to find their house burglarized and truck stolen.
"I'm coming to pray, to hope," Murphy said. "Having seen how little recourse there is for crime, it's disparaging."
The candlelight vigils will begin at 10 p.m. tonight and Sunday in different areas of Columbia Park. All are welcome to attend.
"We're reclaiming our parks," said DiGrazia.
Hernandez left three children, who are active in programs at Westside Ministries. Community members have initiated fundraising efforts for the Hernandez family. To donate to the family, contact Westside Ministries at 667-8593.