BRAWLEY — More than 1,000 people filled the bleachers at Warne Field here Monday evening for a candlelight vigil in memory of Martin Alberto Garza, the Brawley Union High School student who was fatally stabbed in El Centro over the weekend.
Friends, family and fellow students described a young man who was confident, and loving, one who had a kind word and hug for seemingly everyone.
Joshua Diaz, a teammate of Garza’s on the football team, recounted the time he broke his leg before the playoff game against Imperial High School.
“Martin comes up to me, looks me in the eye and said ‘I love you. We’re going to win this game for you.’”
They recalled Garza’s sense of style and his big hugs.
“He always showed off his ‘swag’,” said Yulinda Alonso Garza, Martin’s older sister, laughing. She was referring to his sense of style.
Garza’s uncle, Francisco Alonso broke down while he was speaking.
“One of the things I absolutely love about ‘Gordo’ is that he would give me a big hug. He’d give me a big kiss on the cheek. I’m going to miss him so much.”
A friend of Garza’s sister also talked about his hugs.
“I could look forward to his hugs,” she said, recalling how she would drop in at the Garza residence.
Another of his peers, Reina, recalled the first time she met Garza in junior high school.
“I was crying and crying,” she said. “He gave me a big hug, a big magical hug … he said, ‘I don’t know you but you’re too beautiful to be crying.’”
The crowd chanted Garza’s nickname, “Gordo, Gordo, Gordo,” under the encouragement of one of his teammates, and later, the football team presented Garza’s family with a plaque that had the team’s signatures and jersey numbers.
Friends, family and neighbors of the Garza family dropped in at the Garza residence earlier in the day to offer their condolences, handshakes, hugs and some stories about Garza.
Between tears, laughter and smiles, they described a kind and hard-working young man who had a lot of determination and made time for all.
“He was a good, all-around kid,” said his mother, Yulil Alonso-Garza. “He loved to joke around and always made sure he made (people) feel good.”
Many stories about Garza involved athletics in some way. Garza’s peers have described him as a lifelong athlete, and his mother confirmed that his passion for sports was embedded deep within him.
“The first word he said was ‘ball,’—not mom, not dad,” she said with a smile. “He loved his football. His first love was baseball but his last love was football.”
Sports came easily to Garza. The BUHS varsity football guard did not start playing football until his freshman year of high school, she said.
She laughed when she said he “cheated” on his love in his final year of high school when he decided to play basketball.
Garza had an unmistakable presence.
“You knew (when) he was home,” said his father, Martin Garza. “He would crank up his music. He had a big presence.”
Stories about what Garza was like off the field elicited even more smiles and laughs.
“We moved into this house in 2003,” said Alonzo-Garza, referring to Garza’s residence in a quiet residential neighborhood in Brawley. “He was never gone more than one block, and he checked in every hour.”
His approach to earning money was a combination of mischief and hard work.
“He’d make us clean out our closets and do a yard sale,” Alonso-Garza said.
Did he share his revenues with the family members whose goods he sold?
“Heck no!” she said with a laugh. “But he didn’t ask for more than he needed.”
Garza wasn’t afraid to work hard when he needed more money, his mother said. He worked in grower Jimmy Abatti’s fields this past summer.
Perhaps Garza will be remembered for how open he was with his emotions.
“His New Year’s resolution was to get a girlfriend, and he posted it on Facebook,” said his mother.
According to a statement from the El Centro Police Department, officers from the department responded to reports of a stabbing near Seventh Street and Commercial Avenue in El Centro around 2 a.m. Sunday. The 17-year-old victim, who was not identified by police, was found in an alley near Commercial Avenue with several stab wounds. He was transported to a local hospital, where he later died, according to police.
“Gang involvement may be a factor in this homicide,” according to El Centro police Cmdr. Jeff Mason.
Officials said they may be able to identify a suspect or suspects.
“Based upon our initial interviews with witnesses, we feel confident the suspect or suspects will be identified,” Mason said.
At a glance
What Brawley is hosting Imperial High in a wrestling duel
When 6 p.m. Wednesday, followed with the varsity duel.
Cost Admission is $4 but if attendees pay $6 it will include admission to the duel and a barbecue plate at Saturday's fundraiser. All proceeds will go to the Garza family.
What Barbecue fundraiser
When Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Hidalgo Hall, 410 S. Cesar Chavez Blvd., Brawley
Cost Plates are $6 with all proceeds going to the Garza family.
Staff Writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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