A terrible sadness

Close to 700 people crammed into Saint Catherine Church on

A sea of people dressed in black filled St. Catherine Catholic
Church Monday morning to mourn the death of 14-year-old Sobrato
High School freshman Tara Romero.
A sea of people dressed in black filled St. Catherine Catholic Church Monday morning to mourn the death of 14-year-old Sobrato High School freshman Tara Romero.

Romero was murdered in a drive-by shooting Nov. 4 in a rare homicide for Morgan Hill – the first in two years. The tragedy shook the community after Romero and three other teens were shot at by known gang members about 9:30 p.m. Nov. 4 on the corner of Del Monte and Cosmo avenues in what Morgan Hill police say was a case of mistaken identity. Romero died at the scene, while the three other teens survived.

At her funeral Mass Monday, more than 800 people filled the pews, stood along the walls and spilled out of the doors at St. Catherine. Tara’s closed wooden coffin was adorned with white flowers and carried in by eight pall bearers then rested in the front of the altar. To each side stood stands of flower wreaths, made of white and pink roses and carnations.

Several Sobrato High School students wore white T-shirts with angel wings drawn on the back that read “Our Angel.” Many said they would like to remember Romero with her bright smile and happy.

“She was sweet, she was friends with everyone,” said Sobrato freshman Marleena Castro, 14, who met Tara when they attended Martin Murphy Middle School. Castro’s T-shirt read “RIP Tara” on the front; she received it at the vigil for Tara that was held Sunday night.

Father Hector Basañez presided over the Mass on Monday.

“Tara’s death is a senseless tragedy,” said Basañez following the reading of the Gospel. “Because of Jesus, we are saying so long, with the certainty that one day we will be able to say hello again. She’s already enjoying the company of the Lord.”

Sobs were often heard as attendees somberly followed along the traditional hour-long Catholic service, especially from the reserved family section in the first few pews. Many young people were in attendance, some wearing shirts, sweatshirts, buttons and lanyards with Tara’s smiling face.

“Rest in Paradise,” read one T-shirt. “You will always be remembered and never forgotten.”

“God knew only Heaven could handle you,” read a sweatshirt.

“Too young to be gone, too beautiful to be forgotten,” read another shirt.

Teal “Peace.Love.Tara” plastic wristbands that had Romero’s birth and death date in white sat in a basket prior to entering the church, alongside a donations box stuffed with money. Romero’s funeral was paid for in part through donation dinners, car washes and contributions through a bank account set up to help the family with costs. About $7,000 was raised on a spaghetti dinner last week, and $2,714.70 from the car wash Saturday, according to the “RIP Tara Romero” Facebook page, which currently has more than 5,000 “likes.”

Martin Murphy Middle School, where Romero attended before starting at Sobrato this year as a freshman, also held a brunch fundraiser, said Erica Venegas, mother of 14-year-old Veronica who knew Romero. Romero’s sister, Regina Zamora went to Martin Murphy last week to thank the students for their efforts.

“She was really fun to hang out with, she had the best smile,” said Veronica, a student at Martin Murphy.

A reception followed the funeral Mass at St. Catherine parish center until 6 p.m. and a “celebration of life” also took place at the Gilroy National Guard Armory.

Romero’s family declined to comment.

Romero was one of four teenage victims who were shot about 9:30 p.m. Nov. 4 on the corner of Del Monte and Cosmo avenues after they left a birthday at the Village Avante apartment complex nearby.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office charged each of the five shooting suspects with murder: Esmeling Bahena, 18 of Morgan Hill; Ricardo Diaz, 19 of Morgan Hill; Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20 of Gilroy; Primitovo Hernandez, 23 of San Jose; and Ramon Gutierrez, 17 of Morgan Hill.

All were arrested the night of the shooting and subsequently charged for the crime. The DA has also handed down four counts of attempted murder and discharging a firearm at an occupied home.

Rosa Castaneda, 14 of San Jose, suffered extensive internal injuries due to a gunshot wound and was scheduled to undergo surgery to remove fluid from her lungs Monday, according to her aunt Brenda Martinez of San Jose. She is currently in a medically induced coma. Castaneda’s mother died Saturday due to liver problems, Martinez said. Martinez said they informed Castaneda of the death of Romero, but they are unsure if she will remember after she wakes from the coma.

Alicia Sotelo, 14 of San Jose, was shot in the leg. She was released from the hospital and attended part of the rosary vigil Sunday night.

“She was a mess,” said Martinez.

At the funeral Mass, some wore white T-shirts that read “Stay Strong Rosa and Alicia” on the back.

The 15-year-old male victim, Alex Chavez of Morgan Hill, was treated and released within a day of the shooting, police said.

A community meeting held Wednesday at Morgan Hill’s community center addressed issues of the incident, the history of street gangs in Morgan Hill and what police generally do to counteract gang activity.

Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing said at the meeting that there were more people than the four victims standing in the grassy area at the time of the shooting. He said the suspects might have targeted them and urged anyone who was there or who knows who was there to come forward.

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