Statue would honor slain teen

This 1923 custom-built Ford Low Boy Roadster was given to Tara Romero by her father. The car will be used to raise money to construct a statue in her memory in Morgan Hill.

The family of Tara Romero, the 14-year-old Morgan Hill girl who was mistakenly targeted in a drive-by gang shooting last year, is “ecstatic” that city staff and members of the community are supportive of a public art project memorializing the fallen teen.

“We need a place where people can go and talk to her because she had an impact on so many kids,” said Romero’s mother, Annette Nevarez of Morgan Hill.

A committee of the teen’s family and close family friends proposed erecting a bronze bust of Romero, and placing it on public property in the city. Their preferred location is at the Community and Cultural Center, near the corner of Dunne Avenue and Monterey Road.

Supporters of the project say their goal is to ensure the community never forgets the “random act of violence” that took Romero’s life, and to maintain awareness of the horrors of gang violence perhaps in an effort to prevent it or inspire people to actively promote “peace, unity and social awareness” in the future, Nevarez said.

The statue would be “intended to represent any child, (and) the likeness will depict the child in a joyful, playful pose, and be a symbol of our community’s commitment to maintaining a non-violent environment in which to raise our children,” reads the proposal submitted to the city’s library, culture and arts commission Thursday.

Romero was shot in a drive-by shooting Nov. 4, 2011, at the corner of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues in west Morgan Hill, authorities said.

Police think her shooters, who also shot and injured three other teens, were associated with the Sureno street gang, but the victims were not involved in illegal street gang activity and were mistakenly targeted.

The teens were standing on the corner, just outside the Village Avante apartment complex, on the northeast corner of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues, waiting for a ride home from a birthday party at the time of the shooting.

Romero was born and raised in Morgan Hill, and was a freshman at Sobrato High School when she was killed, Nevarez noted.

“She looked forward to achieving her dream of attending college and enjoying all of the opportunities that were in her future,” the proposal says. “She was like everyone’s child, but now she’s gone.”

Having a likeness of Romero on display in a public place will allow her many friends and those who knew her a place to reflect on the teen’s death, other than the site of her death – which is on private property within the Village Avante complex a few feet from the sidewalk, Nevarez said.

The LCAC unanimously voted 5-0 to support the statue proposal, inciting applause from the audience which contained about 30 friends and family members of Romero’s.

Commissioner Tim Hennessey noted that “a lot of things” make Romero’s death and the incident “unique,” including that it was apparently unprovoked and the suspects were arrested almost immediately after the shooting.

“This did bring a community together,” Hennessey said at the LCAC meeting.

Jeff Turner, a family friend of Romero’s and Nevarez’, said at the commission meeting that the statue would “encourage something positive even though it was a terrible” incident.

“It might represent living your life in an even more family-oriented way,” Turner said.

The proposal is now scheduled for discussion and possible approval for the July 18 City Council meeting, the day before the five men accused of shooting Tara will next appear in court.

Romero’s alleged shooters are next scheduled to appear in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose for the charges related to the crime July 19.

Supporters of the project added that their proposal considers the “tight-knit, family oriented community” that Morgan Hill is.

Romero’s two best friends were uplifted by the commission’s support of the project.

“Everyone needs a place to go to because sometimes just talking isn’t enough,” said Ana Cebreros, 14, one of Romero’s best friends, after the meeting. “We want to go to a place where we feel that she is at, and it will keep the community aware of things that happened to her. Sometimes the memory kind of fades away.”

Tyler Washington, 14, added that it is “still hard to believe” that her best friend is no longer alive. “We did everything together,” she said.

“(A statue) is going to be really important for all the people that have been affected by this,” Washington said.

The statue committee has produced a short list of potential artists they could commission for the sculpture.

They estimate it will cost between $25,000 and $38,000, with the committee raising money through community fundraisers, private donors, raffles, auctions and similar activities, Nevarez said. They predict annual maintenance costs to be about $750.

One of the fundraisers will be a raffle for a custom-built 1923 Ford Low Boy Roadster, which is worth about $30,000. Romero’s father, Joseph Romero, gave the car to Romero when she was 10 years old, Nevarez said. “He spent about 15 years restoring it,” she added.

Once the statue is completed and a site has been approved on city property, the committed plans to donate the art to the city.

The community art commissioners urged Nevarez and other statue committee members to closely follow the city’s official guidelines for permanent public art projects, and present as many details as they can in order to improve their chances of acceptance by the Council. These guidelines relate to the quality of the work, experience and ability of the proposed artist, cost including ongoing maintenance, benefit to the community and how it might enhance its surroundings.

There are currently bronze sculptures depicting people on display on city property in two places in Morgan Hill, according to Morgan Hill recreation supervisor Maureen Drewniany.

One is of Hiram Morgan Hill, the city’s founder, and his family on the sidewalk just outside the public Caltrain parking lot near Depot and Third streets. The other is a series of sculptures in front of the public library on Peak Avenue, depicting children and their parents enjoying the public facility. One of those was commissioned by the Morgan Hill Friends of the Library, and the others were donated to the city by the Leadership Morgan Hill class of 2006, Drewniany said.

The suspects in Tara’s murder, Esmeling Bahena, 18 of Morgan Hill; Ricardo Diaz, 19 of Morgan Hill; Fernando Mateo Lopez, 20 of Gilroy; Primitivo Hernandez, 23 of San Jose; and Ramon Gutierrez, 17 of Morgan Hill, were arrested shortly after the November shooting.

They are each charged with murder and attempted murder, with special enhancements for allegedly committing the crime in support of an illegal street gang, according to authorities.

As of their last hearing on June 1, the court, prosecutors and defense attorney were in the midst of hearing a request by the defendants to acquire uncensored police reports of the incident, some of which might contain names, dates of birth and addresses for the victims and witnesses, according to the prosecutor.

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