Mother who survived Orange mass shooting but lost two children leaves hospital

Blanca Ismeralda Tamayo, sole survivor of the Orange mass shooting in March.
Blanca Ismeralda Tamayo, right, the lone survivor in the Orange mass shooting in March, rests in a wheelchair next to her son Louis Tovar, 25, and her grandchildren Layla, 4, and Theo, 2, after talking with reporters at UCI Medical Center.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Blanca Tamayo was dying when she arrived at UCI Medical Center. She had been shot in the head and her two children were among the four killed in a mass shooting in Orange five weeks ago.

A team of doctors, surgeons and nurses saved her life and cared for her as she recovered. Now, the sole survivor of the tragedy that unfolded on March 31 was being released.

For the record:

1:36 p.m. May 6, 2021An earlier version of this article referred to Luis Tovar as Blanca Tamayo’s ex-husband. The two were never married.

On Wednesday, Tamayo sat quietly in a wheelchair, holding two flower bouquets and wearing a T-shirt with an image of her 9-year-old son, Matthew Farias, who died in her arms that day.

“This hospital has been great,” Tamayo said in a low, raspy voice. “I have my family, the father of my boy and my son who love me and support me and I’m thankful for that.”

She paused, placed her right hand over her chest and cried for Matthew.

“He’s an angel and he’s with God now,” his mother said.

At that moment, words failed her. Her daughter, 28-year-old Genevieve Raygoza, was also killed.


Kneeling down next to her, 25-year-old Louis Tovar Jr. whispered comforting words to his mother. Tovar, whose father and two siblings were killed in the shooting, said the road to recovery will be long for his mother.

“I’m excited to have her back home,” he said. “Just happy to have her back for Mother’s Day.”

Tamayo said her only plan for Mother’s Day was to spend it with family.

“Try and enjoy whatever life God has left me,” she said.

Blanca Ismeralda Tamayo with her son Louis Tovar Jr.
Blanca Ismeralda Tamayo, with her son Louis Tovar Jr., pauses in an emotional moment at UCI Medical Center in Orange.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The mass shooting occurred on the evening of the last day of March in a commercial building that housed several businesses, including Unified Homes, a manufactured-home dealer and real estate company that the gunman targeted.

Orange Police Department detectives alleged that Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, 44, drove a rental car to the building at 202 W. Lincoln Ave. They alleged that Gonzalez used bicycle-type locks to shut the front and rear entrances before carrying out the shooting, targeting mostly employees of Unified Homes.

The incident, the third mass shooting in the United States that month, stunned the quiet north Orange neighborhood.

In addition to Genevieve and Matthew, the dead included the owner of the business, Luis Tovar, 50, and longtime company employee Leticia Solis Guzman, 58.

Tamayo was found holding Matthew in her arms, family said. The day of the shooting just happened to be one of the days that Matthew had accompanied his mom to work at Unified Homes instead of going to day care, family said.

Louis Tovar Jr. said his mother was shot twice in the head and once in the arm.

Michael Lekawa, head surgeon at UCI Medical Center, said Tamayo’s gunshot wounds caused some facial fractures and she required brain surgery.

Lekawa, who was assisting the night the mass shooting happened, said head injuries can be among the most catastrophic a person can experience. Looking at Tamayo, he said he expected her to recover well — at least physically.

Gonzalez, the suspected gunman, was wounded after exchanging fire with police officers. Authorities said officers were forced to use bolt cutters to gain entrance.

A photo released by authorities showed a man entering the business dressed in black and gray with sunglasses, a baseball hat and black bandana covering his face. He had a backpack on his left shoulder and a gun in his right hand.

Authorities said they recovered a semiautomatic handgun and a backpack with pepper spray, handcuffs and ammunition that they say belong to the suspect.

Gonzalez, who has not been arraigned, is facing four murder counts and three attempted-murder counts for firing at two officers who were not struck and for critically wounding Tamayo, according to a statement that Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer released last month after filing the charges.

“The taking of the life of another human being is the most serious of crimes,” he said. “And the slaughter of multiple people while they were essentially locked in a shooting gallery is nothing short of terrifying.”

Detectives say they don’t have a motive for the shooting. They are also looking at how the suspect obtained the firearm.

Back at the hospital Wednesday afternoon, Rafael Farias stood by himself a short distance away, watching his wife address the media. He wore a golden rosary with a photo of his smiling son, Matthew. Farias said losing his boy triggered memories of his own father, who died when he was 3. He has tried to take it one day at a time, focusing on supporting his wife and expressing gratitude to the hospital staff, family, friends and the public.

“I’m just grateful for this miracle,” he said, looking over at Tamayo. “I might not be able to see my son anymore, but I can at least see him through her.”

Farias said he’s going to focus on helping his wife while she continues to recover from her injuries. He said she’s going to need 24-hour supervision and help moving around so she can avoid injuring herself.

“I have a very quiet and calm environment for her and for her family to come over and visit,” he said.

Farias said all he can do now is try to move forward as best he can. “I have to continue living life for [my son], for his life,” he said. “I have to stay strong-minded.”

Farias described Matthew as a smart, charismatic, athletic and energetic little boy. He said he loved seeing how happy he was around his mother.

“He would give her kisses and flowers and hugged her every time he got the chance,” he said.

Farias hoped to watch his son grow up and play sports.

“I wanted to be his No. 1 fan,” he said.

He said every now and then, he has dreams of him. He smiles thinking about it.

“He’s joyful and happy,” he said.

“He’s up in heaven now and I know he’s running around chasing his sister Genevieve,” the boy’s father added.

In one dream, Farias said, he saw his son at the grocery store sitting on top of a shelf. He asked his son what he was doing up there and his son said he was just thinking.

“I told him come on down,” he said, recalling. “That’s when I hugged him and I wake up from the dream.”