Nearly a decade after 14-year-old Tara Romero lost her life in a drive-by shooting in southwest Morgan Hill, her family, friends and fellow community members gathered Saturday to unveil a statue in her likeness that serves as a monument to peace and unity.
The City of Morgan Hill hosted a Sept. 18 ceremony for the unveiling of the bronze statue, which is titled “Everyone’s Child.” The statue is located on the Morgan Hill Civic Center campus between the public library and council meeting chambers on Peak Avenue.
“On Nov. 4, 2011, my daughter passed away in a senseless act of violence,” Annette Nevarez, Tara’s mother, said at the Sept. 18 ceremony. “This sculpture is intended to serve as an inspirational symbol of hope, peace, love and unity for all of our youth growing up in our community.”
Following remarks from the family and city officials, Nevarez along with Tara’s father, Joseph Romero, and sister Catherine Romero—with some help from the city’s mayor—untied a purple cloth that had been wrapped around the new statue. Nevarez was overcome with emotion as she reached out to the bronze likeness of her daughter, weeping at the reminder of her loss but also relieved that the public art piece was finally completed and on display.
“Everyone’s Child” is the culmination of eight years of fundraising and coordination among Tara Romero’s family and local community organizations. The Morgan Hill Library, Culture and Arts commission helped raise funds and promote the public art project. The City of Morgan Hill donated a spot on the public civic center lawn where the statue will stay permanently.
Joseph Romero has remained steadfastly committed to the creation and placement of “Everyone’s Child”—and the justice system’s efforts to prosecute Tara’s killers—ever since the tragic shooting. He could barely stop smiling after the statue was revealed to the public at the Sept. 18 ceremony.
“I thank the city, the community of Morgan Hill, friends and family for supporting us throughout this ordeal,” Romero said at the ceremony. “I’m glad to say this year is the year, and (the statue) is going to be here for a long time.”
Catherine Romero, who was age 7 when Tara was killed, said she is “really proud” of her father for the work he has done in bringing the art piece to reality. She and other family members said they plan to visit the statue regularly and place flowers at the base on special days like Tara’s birthday.
The bronze statue is about six feet in height, and features a young, smiling girl standing tall with her right arm reaching up to touch a butterfly. A plaque on the statue’s pedestal reads, “Tara was 14 when she was taken from us by violence. This statue is representative of ‘EVERYONE’S CHILD’ and is a symbol of our community’s commitment to maintaining a non-violent environment in which to raise our children. TARA ROMERO, NEVER FORGOTTEN. – Tara’s Family.”
The statue was created by artist David Spellerberg, who is based in southern California. Joseph Romero said his son-in-law, Jerry Zamora, built and donated the pedestal on which the bronze sculpture stands.
The piece cost about $33,000, of which the City of Morgan Hill contributed about $3,000, Romero said.
Mayor Rich Constantine said in his remarks at the ceremony, “While this statue is a likeness of Tara, it is meant to represent all the children of Morgan Hill, and our community’s commitment to making sure this is a safe and non-violent environment for all of our kids. While our community strives to make sure this tragic event doesn’t happen to another family, I am inspired by the support that our community has shown the family.”
Tara Romero was standing on a lawn near the intersection of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues with a group of her teenage friends at the time of the Nov. 4, 2011 shooting. A vehicle with five gang-related suspects inside slowly drove by as the occupants opened fire on the group with multiple firearms, according to authorities.
Romero, who was a freshman at Sobrato High School at the time, and three of her classmates were struck by gunfire. Romero was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after police and paramedics arrived.
Morgan Hill Police attempted to pull over the suspects’ vehicle within minutes after the shooting, and followed them to a nearby apartment on Barnell Avenue, according to authorities. The five young men ran into the home, which was quickly surrounded by MHPD and officers from multiple surrounding agencies.
After a standoff that lasted several hours, all five suspects were detained without further violence.
The shooters had targeted the teens because they thought they were rival Norteño gang members, according to police. However, the victims were not gang affiliated, and were waiting for a ride home when the shooting occurred.
Romero and her friends had been out celebrating one of the victims’ birthday earlier that evening.
One of the suspects—Ramon Gutierrez—is still in custody awaiting trial on charges related to the 2011 shooting. He was deemed not competent to stand trial at previous court proceedings, and remains involuntarily housed at a state mental health facility, according to authorities. Joseph Romero, who continues to follow Gutierrez’ case, said the judge won’t schedule a trial until medical professionals have determined the suspect is competent.
In separate jury trials, suspects Fernando Mateo Lopez and Esmeling Bahena were found guilty in 2016 of murder and other charges, including enhancements for committing the crime for an illegal street gang. Suspect Ricardo Diaz pleaded guilty, also in 2016, to first degree murder in relation to Tara Romero’s death.
The fifth suspect, Primitivo Hernandez, was found not guilty by the same jury that convicted Lopez in 2016.
Morgan Hill Police Chief Shane Palsgrove was a sergeant for MHPD at the time of the shooting. At the Sept. 18 unveiling ceremony, Palsgrove tearfully recalled the events of the evening. On his night off, he received a call to respond to the scene while he was cleaning his home in preparation for his son’s birthday party later that weekend.
He recalled hearing the screaming of the victims and the “high pitch of officers’ voices” over the radio as soon as he arrived at the shooting scene.
“This moment, these sounds of our grieving community are forever embedded into my mind,” Palsgrove said at the Sept. 18 ceremony. “This statue of Tara Romero serves as a reminder of our youth who have fallen victim to violence. It serves as a reminder that more youth will fall victim to violence, and as such calls our community to action to continue improving and contributing to our efforts on preventive measures and intervention that will keep our youth safe.”
Since 2011, MHPD and city officials have implemented or taken part in various efforts and programs to stop youth violence, Palsgrove said. These include the South County Youth Task Force, local Youth Action Committees and youth restorative justice programs.
Another local youth outreach program is the Living Above The Influence Chillout program, where young people can gather to “come share their grief, loss, identity issues” or anything else they are struggling with, founder Dori Prado said at the Sept. 18 ceremony. The Chillout program meets every Thursday at the Community & Cultural Center, 17000 Monterey Road.