Friends of Slain Student Protest Gang Violence


About 50 friends of Ernesto Sanchez, an 18-year-old Pomona High School senior who was killed by gang gunfire Saturday, marched and carried banners in front of the Pomona Civic Center this week to protest gang violence.

"Stop the Violence in Loving Memory of Ernie Sanchez," read one of the banners carried by the crowd of teen-agers, young adults and parents as they encouraged passing motorists on Mission Boulevard to honk their horns in support.

Friends said Sanchez was not connected with gangs but was a good student who had a job and was looking forward to attending Cal State Fullerton this fall. "He was a good guy," said 19-year-old Sam Orellana. "He didn't deserve this. He had a future. He had something to live for, not like the gangbangers."

Police said Sanchez and three friends were returning from a trip to a convenience store shortly after midnight Friday when they were fired on by two men on Grove Street, near Towne Avenue. Sanchez was shot in the head.

The men fled in a pickup truck, shouting gang slogans. Sanchez died at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center 12 hours after the shooting.

Art Nila, a 20-year-old friend, said Sanchez must have been mistaken for a gang member. "It was a vicious gun-down," he said.

Police, who have made no arrests and have no suspects in the shooting, said half of the 10 homicides in Pomona this year have been gang related.

Nila said he and other friends of Sanchez met Sunday to talk about what had happened and what they could do about it. Often one gang shooting leads to a retaliatory shooting, Nila said, but it won't in this case. "His friends are not gang members. No one is saying retaliation. That thought hasn't even gone through anyone's mind," he said.

Instead, he said, the first thing the friends did Sunday was hold a car wash to raise money to help the Sanchez family pay funeral expenses.

They raised $1,200 with the car wash and $1,000 from a potluck dinner and are planning to raise more money to pay off an $8,000 loan that Sanchez had obtained to finance his proudest possession, a 1987 charcoal-gray Honda Accord.

To heighten community awareness of gang violence, the group is planning a candlelight march at 7 tonight from Pomona High School to the murder site at Towne Avenue and Grove Street.

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Todd Memorial Chapel in Pomona.

Micheal Phillips, Pomona High School principal, said Sanchez maintained a strong 3.2 grade-point average, earned varsity letters in soccer and cross-country, worked as a busboy at a La Verne restaurant to help support his family of six brothers and sisters, and was preparing to enter college to obtain an engineering degree.

Phillips described Sanchez as "kind of an all-American boy. . . . He enjoyed being in school. He enjoyed life. . . . He had a way of making people around him see things in a positive light."

The youth's brother, Beto, 15, said Ernesto provided discipline and guidance to the younger members of the family, acting almost like a surrogate father.

"He wasn't just a brother," Beto said. "He was my friend . . . my father."

Other youths said Sanchez had encouraged them to get jobs and stay in school.

Ruben Marquez, 17, said Sanchez was his closest friend. "Everybody knew Ernie," he said. "He was friendly. He was funny, very funny, like the class clown. He was always for living. . . . He wanted to get out of neighborhoods like this."

Marquez said he hopes this death will lead to a reduction in gang violence in Pomona "but I honestly don't know. . . . We're doing all we can for Ernie. I hope he can see what we're doing for him and know that we cared."

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