Prayers in English, Spanish and Mandarin wrapped the Half Moon Bay community in a spiritual embrace Tuesday as community members gathered to mourn the death of seven farmworkers, an event some said they hope will help begin the coastal town’s healing.
“I know everyone has been talking about grief and what we’ve been suffering but I believe it’s time for us to heal,” said Naomi Patridge, a former Half Moon Bay mayor and the first Asian mayor in the county. “We need to heal as a community. We all love each other, we care about each other, we need to learn to respect each other. I’m hoping we can start that process today.”
Hundreds gathered in the Boys & Girl Club Event Center in Half Moon Bay Tuesday evening for an interfaith funeral held for the victims of a mass shooting Monday, Jan. 23. As the loved ones of those killed sat in the center of the room with faith and government leaders, community members filled the bleachers around them.
Between hymns by the Coastside Community Choir and Our Lady of the Pillar Choir, religious leaders from various denominations spoke of grief, healing and forgiveness. Elected leaders promised to enact change, noting progress can be achieved through community. And community members, some familiar with grief themselves, offered their enduring support.
Regardless of cultural or religious affiliations, the room joined in a collective moment of mourning. Immediately after, with candles in their hands, the crowd was led by a truck playing music to the I.D.E.S. Hall on Main Street where the city, county and Chamber of Commerce welcomed the community to a dinner.
Along the way, community members often stopped to reflect in front of a memorial in the Mac Dutra Plaza, some with tears in their eyes, others in laughter as they found comfort with each other.
Jessica Cen, the fund development director for Self-Help for the Elderly, an organization providing support to the community following the shooting, was among those who stopped to admire the growing pile of flowers, rows of candles and hundreds of letters left in the plaza.
She and her co-workers attended Tuesday’s funeral to show support for victims and the broader community. While there, she said the multiculturalism of the event wasn’t lost on her, a feature she said she hopes becomes more common at other community gatherings.
Cen said she also found herself thinking about the shooter and his family, and questioning the conditions that drove him to such an extreme act of violence.
“Sometimes [asking for help] is a taboo for men — masculinity in a society and on top of that, language and cultural barriers — they might not have an outlet or support,” Cen said. “It made me think we have to reach out to more people, not on behalf of the organization. But how do we make people know we’re all connected and we’re all members of this Earth regardless of family or city or language?”
Chunli Zhao, a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay farmworker, is accused of killing his seven co-workers — Zhishen Liu, 73, Aixiang Zhang, 74, Qizhong Cheng, 66, Jingzhi Lu, 64, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, Yetao Bing, 43, and Jose Romero Perez, 38.
The shooting shocked the small town of 11,000 residents and displaced 37 people, including 11 children, making up 18 families, who called the farms where they worked home. Since then, officials have tried to make sense of the incident. While Zhao has claimed he was routinely mistreated, the shooting has also pulled back the curtain on substandard living conditions.
Esperanza Rubio, a Daly City resident who said she visits the small town nearly every weekend, said the event helped illuminate some of the strife farmworkers in the area face. She shared hope that the moment of tragedy would help bring about positive change, especially for those closely affected.
“Tonight was a great eye opening for all of us and a great way for us to really get together as a community in the Bay, not only the coast but in the Bay,” Rubio said. “We learned about things we didn’t know about and hopefully knowing will open us to finding a way to make a difference and recognizing the issue at hand.”
District 3 Supervisor Ray Mueller, speaking during the memorial, assured survivors and families of those lost that the county would not abandon them and asked that they spread word of his commitment to anyone affected but not in attendance.
Since last Monday’s shooting, residents living on the two farms targeted by the gunman have been housed by the county in hotel rooms and provided with money to cover what pay they lost from being out of work, food, transportation and other wraparound services.
Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose acknowledged the outpouring of support the town has received from nonprofits like Coastside Hope and Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, city, county and state agencies and first responders.
“There is only one way for us to act and that way is through love and hope and faith and the courage to work to right this horrific wrong,” Penrose said. “The outpouring of love that’s already occurred is an indication of where we are going.”
Naomi Patridge has been an awesome coach mayor coaching pitching the banners on the walls are all wins for HMB Naomi has coached...i brought my granddaughter to HMB to be taught by Naomi her Naomi Patridge bay trail is beautiful and a HMB salute to her and all her volunteer efforts to HMB> every night she rides the lawn mower and prepares the fields for th next day games the rest of us go home and Naomi goes field prep riding Congratulations her IT"S time to heal is so her. makes a lot of sense..heal now together thanks for the awesome article it is well appreciated to honor her and the solid HMB community at this time to heal.
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