San Bernardino Healing Memorial Show gives community a lift
Eight-year-old Caden Wetzel had been looking forward to Sunday’s memorial concert all week, so much so he even told his mom he wanted to fast-forward past Christmas. Sunday was the day that Caden, whose father, Michael Wetzel, was killed in the San Bernardino terror attack, finally came to face-to-face with his hero: Batman.
And Batman had a message for him, a lesson he said he’d learned having gone through a traumatic experience himself, a new mantra that he asked Caden to repeat five times:
“Tough things make you stronger,” Caden said.
Batman’s appearance was part of the free concert at the National Orange Show Events Center intended to benefit families of the victims of the Dec. 2 shooting rampage at the Inland Regional Center, which left 14 people dead and 22 wounded. About 1,200 people attended the daylong event.
Amy Wetzel, mother and Michael’s former wife, said Caden hadn’t acknowledged or talked much about his father’s death, but the experience of talking with Buckland has been one of the few things to help him open up.
“It’s been a huge help for him,” Wetzel said. “It’s not a one-day relationship. People like that come into your kids’ lives, there’s no words.... Just seeing him genuinely happy and knowing that there’s nothing going on in the back of his mind for at least this small amount of time, it’s priceless.”
Those who attended Sunday’s concert were encouraged to donate money to Arrowhead United Way for the San Bernardino United Relief Fund, which will be distributed to the victims’ families. All sales from the event will go toward the fund as well.
Several artists performed at the benefit — including headliners Frankie J and Jon B — many of whom sang songs specially chosen in honor of the victims.
Ralph Vildosola, co-founder and president of America Healing Hearts, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the event, said he, Raymond Martinez and the Grammy Award-winning producers Avila Brothers came up with the idea for the concert three weeks ago. Vildosola said the group wanted to raise funds for the families and bring the community together.
“We wanted to really build up the community,” Vildosola said. “It seems like music always controls emotions, and it’s uplifting.”
Gregory Clayborn, father of victim Sierra Clayborn and one of several speakers at the event, said he was grateful for the community’s support.
“It means a lot. It just lets us know that the community is concerned about what we’re going through, and it’s a blessing to know that people care,” Clayborn said after the memorial.
Clayborn described Sierra, the “joy of [his] life,” as a giving person who always sought out ways to help others. Her legacy lives on in memory, he said.
“She’s still blessing me,” Clayborn said. “Now she’s blessing people all over the world, so I’m very happy for that.”
Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-Rialto) also spoke about the healing process. She stressed that the community’s focus should be on the victims and uniting the community.
“San Bernardino is going to be strong, our community is going to remain strong, and we’ll never forget the victims,” Brown said. “We’re not going to let people who want to create fear keep us from doing and living the way that we live as Americans.”
Jessica Hoffman, 28, of Rialto said she came to the event to show her support for the victims and be a part of the recovery effort.
“Even though this happened, San Bernardino is not down and out,” Hoffman said. “We still have the ability to rise up stronger than we were ever before.”
Robert Velasco, father of victim Yvette Velasco, said he was touched to hear about the event and to see the community assembling in the name of his daughter and the others who were killed.
“It’s great to see all these people coming out showing their support and their love for the families of the victims,” Velasco said. “It gives us a lot of strength.”
“I hope you feel our love,” Brown said with a reassuring smile.
“We do,” Velasco said, smiling back. “We do.”
MORE ON SAN BERNARDINO
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.