By Seth Daniel and Joe Prezioso
As dusk fell upon Chelsea last Wednesday evening, March 9, little Chase Collins held a ball tightly between his hands, looking curiously at the growing numbers of candles and photos and poems left at the Washington Avenue scene of the horrific shooting incident that killed Pablo Villeda on March 6 and injured six other young people.
As he looked carefully at the items, gripping his ball a little tighter, he turned and asked his grandmother what it was all about. He wanted to know why the young man in the pictures was dead.
As peace/vigil marchers began to gather around them last Wednesday evening, his grandmother, Beverly Martin Ross, explained carefully to Collins in choice words about how guns can be very dangerous and some people use them on purpose to hurt other people.
She told the little boy that the boy in the pictures, Pablo, who in reality was only about 10 years older than Collins, had been hurt badly with a gun by someone.
“Guns lead to nothing good and they have to be taken off the streets,” she told him. “Senseless deaths need not happen like this. They can be prevented.”
The boy seemed to understand in the limited and scared fashion with which children take in horrific events.
It’s a conversation that hundreds of people marching in the streets last Wednesday want to put an end to, as Villeda’s death is seemingly becoming the event that has turned the tide of thousands of residents against the persistent violence on the streets of Chelsea.
Hundreds, possibly close to a thousand people gathered at 120 Washington Ave. to honor the life of Villeda. Villeda died of gunshot wounds on March 6 after being shot at a teen party in a vacant apartment.
Candles, clothing and flowers piled up on the shooting site where mourners gathered at the outset of the march.
Friends, teachers, relatives and local officials all gathered at the the site of the shooting to march together from Washington Avenue to St. Rose Church and to City Hall. Candles were lit, songs sung and prayers were offered along the route. Villeda’s brother, Javier, held a graduation photo of his brother Pablo as he marched and held hands with his siblings and cousins. Villeda’s dad, Oscar, walked alone with a candle behind them.
Chelsea Police guided the marchers and kept the route clear of traffic for the marchers. At the conclusion of the march, everyone piled up onto the steps of City Hall where the family gathered and a podium was erected for people to speak.
Father Hilario Sanez offered prayers and words of comfort and City officials, including councillors, the city manager and police chief spoke about youth dying too young and that things need to change to prevent unnecessary deaths like this in the future.
“I truly wish I could offer you some words that would bring you actual comfort and hope tonight, but I know I can’t,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “What words can heal the devastation that we are all feeling when a young life ends so senselessly. I didn’t know Pablo, but from everything I hear Pablo was on the right path. He had some bumps in the road to maturity and adulthood, but that is the human condition. We simply ask our teenagers to try to make more good choices then bad, and Pablo was doing that. I guess as a city the best way we can honor his life is to try to make it easier for teenagers to make more good choices, by providing them with more options and more opportunity. You have my word that is what I’ll try to do as your city leader.”
City Councillor Roy Avellaneda said Pablo Villeda left an impression on the community of Chelsea.
“I conveyed to the family that during this difficult time, words are very difficult to offer any comfort, but I said that we know that they did a wonderful job as parents to raise Pablo,” he said. “But he wasn’t just raised by them; he was also raised by teachers that are here tonight, friends that are here tonight. He was raised by a church that he was a member of. That was here to offer prayers, so that if there is any consolation that can be given to the parents, it’s that we are all in pain tonight, that we share the grief. Hopefully that offers some path way to healing, but I know from personal experience that the pain never really goes away. It dulls, but its always going to be there. They need to know that he made an impression in this community and he’s going to be missed.”
One of the organizers of the march, Gladys Vega of the Chelsea Collaborative, said the City cannot lose any more young people.
“I think that every time we lose a young person in the community, it’s extremely sad and devastating,” she said. “One life is too many. As a community we need to come together to make sure that we rescue every youth in the community and that they serve as role models to the children. If we are not able to do that, then we have failed. The fact that we have a young person that died, we failed the family, we failed our youth. One is too many.”
Everyone agreed the march was not the “forum” to discuss those changes.
Instead, a community meeting on youth violence has been scheduled at City Hall for Tuesday night, March 22, at 6 p.m. In that forum, solutions and frustrations will be heard. Large crowds are expected.
After the march last Wednesday, back at 120 Washington Ave., friends of Villeda gathered and mourned him without the crowds – friends that had seen him last at the party or in his last days.
They embraced each other with tears in their eyes, not wanting to accept his senseless death.