Loved ones’ favorites fill menu at homicide survivors potluck
A handful of the 200 or so faces are familiar. They are the faces, mostly of children, that have shown up in the news over the years.
But most of the faces in the photos are of people who led ordinary lives. Their photos are here only because they have one thing in common: All were murdered in Pima County.
There is an 8-year-old boy killed by a drunken driver.
A man pictured in a coat and tie was shot to death. He was 81.
The smile of a girl in pigtails and wearing a red jumper is forever frozen – at age 7, when she was killed.
One man wears a sailor’s uniform. “He lived a full life,” the caption says – and it ended when he was 22.
There is a smiling woman holding her 3-year-old son. “Both were shot by an unknown assailant.”
And a girl is blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. She was 13 when she was killed.
The display – photos in neat rows on nearly two dozen panels – is overwhelming. “It’s only a few of them,” said Gail Leland, the director of the local chapter of Homicide Survivors.
Among the photos is that of Richard Leland, Gail’s 14-year-old son, who was slain 27 years ago. His killer remains free.
The faces were lined up last week inside an auditorium at St. Augustine’s Cathedral for an annual dinner. It was an exclusive event, but all wished they had not been there. Only families of murder victims were invited.
This year, about 75 more families already have been added to this fellowship.
The holidays are a difficult time for family members who have lost a loved one, so Leland came up with the idea of inviting these people with a common tragedy to spend an evening together.
About 70 people attended this potluck supper with an unusual menu: People were asked to bring their loved ones’ favorite dish.
There was chopped pork, stuffing, tortillas, chicken fajitas, fruit salad, jambalaya, friend chicken, fudge brownies, mac-’n'-cheese – and lots of pizza.
The jambalaya was brought by Manuel and Diane Munguia, whose 22-year-old son, Francisco Martín Munguia, had been killed just 32 days earlier.
Manuel Munguia pulled a crumpled photo of his son from a pouch.
“He took a bullet,” he said softly.
José Martín Lopez Jr. came with his mother, uncle, aunt, girlfriend and two children, bringing “my sister’s favorite mac-’n'-cheese.” But he wasn’t sure he had it just right because “she was always the one with the secret ingredient.”
His sister was Rose Marie Lopez, an 18-year-old student at Sunnyside High School who was set to graduate next spring. She was shot when crashers burst into a Halloween party last month.
Karina Gonzales loved buffalo wings, so her father, Eddie, brought a platter full to the dinner. “If I hurried up, I might get one,” he recalled.
Karina was killed July 3. Her father wore a T-shirt with a photo of his 21-year-old daughter and the message, “I’ll miss you.”
Eddie Gonzales was eating with a couple he met at the dinner, Jodi and Ron Hubbard. Her son, Brian Schreiber, had been killed in September 2007.
Schreiber, 29, loved pizza. “If we bought two large pizzas, he’d eat one before we started,” said Ron Hubbard, Brian’s stepfather. “There were no leftovers.”
Linda Noperi brought brownies in memory of her son, Armando G. Rodriguez. The 23-year-old was slain in September during an argument.
“He loved brownies,” Noperi said. “That’s what he always asked for on his birthday, instead of cake.”
Thanksgiving will be difficult, she said, “but I think New Year’s Eve will be the toughest.”
“No matter where he was, he’d call me right at midnight and say, ‘Happy New Year’s, Mom.’ ”
Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 573-4662.