Friends, family, artists organize event to honor Tara Romero

Tara Romero's casket is carried out Monday at the end of the

In an effort memorialize 14-year-old drive-by shooting victim Tara Romero and to encourage Morgan Hill’s youth to express themselves freely and actively, a group of local parents and teens will host an art show and fundraiser Jan. 13.

The event titled “Your Words Have Power” will feature performances by local bands, as well as art and poetry presentations. Community members including Romero’s mother, Annette Nevarez, will speak about the importance of remembering the incident that left her daughter dead and three other teens injured.

“We want to put the eyes of the community on the youth, which is our future,” said event organizer Jeff Turner.

Organizers plan to use the event to raise money for an ongoing series of events specifically for the youth, according to Turner. Plans are already in the works to secure three outdoor events focusing on young people this year at the Community and Cultural Center’s amphitheater.

But the primary purpose of the fundraiser is to remember Romero, who died Nov. 4, 2011 in a drive-by shooting at the corner of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues. Romero was a freshman at Sobrato High School, where the event will take place.

Romero was standing on a grassy area at the intersection the night of the shooting with her four friends, waiting for a ride home from a birthday party. Three of her friends were also shot, and one recently returned to the hospital with recurring complications to the bullet wound in her stomach.

“It’s in honor of Tara Romero, and to remind the youth how precious life is and to keep Tara’s name alive,” said Turner, who will perform with his band at the Jan. 13 event, which will take place at the school’s theater.

Turner added that the long-term goal for the fundraiser and ensuing annual event is to keep the community focused on the importance of the youth, and potentially generate interest and resources to help young people in areas such as resume building, job preparation, relationship and communication skills.

Plus, by presenting artworks produced by young people, organizers hope the event encourages more youth participation in the community.

“We want to encourage them to start expressing themselves through poetry and art. They don’t have a place to apply that. A lot of the students at Sobrato and Live Oak High School have a lot of hidden talent they aren’t able to express,” Turner said.

Also attending the event, if they’re healthy enough, will be Romero’s friends who were shot in the same drive-by attack – fellow Sobrato High School classmates Alicia Sotelo, 14, and Rosa Castaneda, 14. Chris Loredo, 15 of Morgan Hill, was also shot in the incident, and was treated and released from the hospital the next day.

Alicia and Rosa’s aunt, Brenda Martinez, will also attend in an effort to inspire young people to open up and express their thoughts and feelings. She said not only has the shooting affected the victims likely “for the rest of their lives,” but will also leave a lasting imprint on the community and other local teens.

“It’s important that these kids are able to express themselves and talk about it,” Martinez said. “We don’t want any other kids going into depression by not being able to vent. And it’s important for these young kids to know the community cares. It makes it easier for them, to know that people are behind them. That’s a big thing for us to know as a family – that this is a concern for the community.”

Castaneda, a San Jose resident, was released from the hospital in the middle of December, but was readmitted to the intensive care unit in recent days due to another infection in her stomach, where she was shot, Martinez said. She is now out of ICU but still in the hospital. Despite the loss of her friend, and the Nov. 12 death of her mother, Lupe C. Sanchez, while she was comatose, Castaneda hopes to attend next Friday’s event if she’s back home.

“She’s really grieving, with Tara and her mother being gone,” Martinez said. “She needs to see how much the community has stepped up for the girls.”

Sotelo was shot in the leg, and she is out of the hospital on crutches and undergoing physical therapy, Martinez said. Although the San Jose resident has been “very scared” to come back to Morgan Hill since the shooting, Sotelo has started to open up and spend more time with her friends in the last few days. Sotelo attended Sobrato before she was shot, but is being home schooled until at least the end of this academic year.

Sotelo is on crutches, and slowly starting to walk again, Martinez added. She still requires ongoing treatment for an infection that resulted from the bullet wound.

“She’s a lot better than she was in the beginning,” Martinez said. “She didn’t want to see anybody. We’re trying our hardest to get her out a little more.”

The community pulled together and showed their support for Romero and her family following the shooting, and Martinez said she will try to keep that support going. She also commended the city of Morgan Hill and local police for quickly responding to the shooting and arresting five suspects, who are now in custody, shortly after the attack occurred.

The Jan. 13 event is scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. Presale tickets for “Your Words Have Power” are $5, and $15 at the door. Those wishing to purchase tickets before the event can RSVP on the event’s Facebook page, which is titled “Your Words Have Power 2012 in Loving Memory of Tara Romero.”

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