Last two years described as ‘bloodiest’ by officials
Parents who have lost children experience depression, anxiety, stress
Families must go through different stages of grief before starting healing process, therapist says
First in a three-part series. Ana B. Ibarra’s reporting on community violence and its effects on health was undertaken as a fellow of the California Health Journalism Fellowship at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.
She lay on her bedroom floor, face down, frozen. She remembers counting at least 10 gunshots.
This wasn’t the first time Desiree Parreira had heard gunshots, but it was the closest to her home. The incident happened earlier this summer, she said, just a short distance from her bedroom in an alley behind her Broadway Avenue apartment in Atwater.
She called out to her 7-year-old son, ordering him to get on the ground. He did as he was told.
She heard yelling and footsteps. Minutes later, the alley was clear, as if nothing had ever happened.
Parreira’s greatest fear is losing a child to a bullet – again.
She doesn’t know if she could handle all the pain and turmoil that comes with losing a loved one to street violence once more.
On March 31, 2013, Parreira lived a parent’s worst nightmare when her 16-year-old daughter, Samantha, was shot and killed at a house party in Atwater.
Parreira remembers waking up that Easter Sunday to a knock on her door. Merced County sheriff’s detectives told her Samantha was in critical condition at a Modesto hospital.
Samantha had been shot in the chest, and a bullet was lodged in her spine.
“I sat there and held her hand, cleaned blood out of her ears and nose,” she said. “It’s a pain that I never want any mother or father to have to experience.”
A little before noon that day, Samantha was taken off life support. She stopped breathing at 12:05 p.m.
Spike in violent crime
Parreira’s experience sparked uneasiness, depression, anxiety and resentment, but she knows that in a county where violence is on the rise, she can’t be the only one who feels this way.
DEPRESSION, I HAVE IT; I HIDE IT. I DON’T WANT PEOPLE FEELING SORRY FOR ME BECAUSE MY DAUGHTER IS GONE.
Desiree Parreira, mother of homicide victim Samantha Parreira
Samantha’s death was one of three that night at the same party, and one of 30 homicides in Merced County in 2013 – a record at that time.
That number was trumped last year, when the county recorded 32 homicides. Based on the county’s estimated population of 255,793, that is equivalent to 12.51 homicides per 100,000 people.
The state average is 4.6 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the California Department of Justice. The national average is 4.5 homicides per 100,000 people.
In 18 of last year’s cases, the victims were between 15 and 29 years old, according to the Merced County coroner.
“The last two years have been the bloodiest in Merced County’s history, with more than 60 homicides,” District Attorney Larry Morse II said in May after a five-month investigation resulted in the arrest of 75 gang members.
“Even more disturbing is that it comes at a time when violent crime in California has been reaching historic lows,” he said. “We’ve been moving in a bad way against the tide.”
Effects from this violent wave carry vast and often unspoken consequences in a community that sees far more than its share of brutality.
A parent’s grief
Parreira is numb to the statistics. They don’t mean much to her now. All she knows is that she wakes up every morning without her daughter.
“It’s like someone reaches in your chest and pulls out your heart, squeezes all the life out of it, sticks it back in there and expects you to go on,” Parreira said.
Merced residents Diane Reis and Robert Fisher lost a son, Matthew, the same night Samantha was killed.
According to a report filed by Merced County sheriff’s detectives, Matthew Fisher, 19, and Samantha were sitting together on a bench in the backyard of the Westside Boulevard house when two suspected gang members approached and fired.
Samantha screamed and she and Matthew fell forward, clutching their chests, the report said.
About nine months after Matthew’s death, his brother, Marcus Fisher, 21, was gunned down at a New Year’s party in Merced.
“It was devastating. We (were) just rebuilding from Matt,” Robert Fisher said. “It took us back to zero, knocked us off our feet again.”
Some days are harder than others. Reis and Fisher said they lean on each other and their two remaining children to keep themselves from sinking into depression. Reis said since the death of her two boys it has become difficult to concentrate on anything else.
She feels angry and tired.
WE’VE BEEN MOVING IN A BAD WAY AGAINST THE TIDE.