Bobby Salcedo's mother, center, is consoled as his wife, Betzy, watches… (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles…)
The high school football field in El Monte bore all the hallmarks of a homecoming rally Monday. Thousands of people sat on bleachers decorated with purple and gold balloons, the colors of the Mountain View High School Vikings. Music played from loudspeakers and students raised glow sticks.
FOR THE RECORD:
Bobby Salcedo rally: An article in Tuesday's Section A about an event to honor El Monte school board member Bobby Salcedo, who was recently slain in Mexico, stated that the Mountain View High student choir performed. The El Monte High School student choir was the group that sang "California Dreamin'." —
It was a celebration of an alumnus' life, but not the sort that anyone here wanted -- not this way. Agustin Roberto "Bobby" Salcedo was slain last week while celebrating the holidays in his wife's hometown in Mexico. He was a Mountain View alumnus, a proud Viking, and a former administrator there. He was also an El Monte school board member and regarded as a rising star.
According to El Monte police, about 5,000 people attended the vigil at the stadium, which was billed as a celebration of Salcedo's life.
"It's a last goodbye," Angel Aguilera, 16, said as he stood in view of projected images of Salcedo, "I didn't want to believe this happened to him."
"I expected a lot of people to come," his friend Edwin Moreno, 16, said. "He was always a funny guy, trying to make people laugh. But he was serious when he needed to be."
They recalled the day the former Mountain View High administrator strutted across a catwalk like a fashion model one day. "Everyone laughed," Angel said.
"He had a good life, and for it to end like this," he added, his voice trailing off.
Salcedo, 33, was killed along with five other men after they were hauled out of a bar in Gomez Palacio in the state of Durango. Salcedo had adopted the town as his own, helping to raise money for orphanages and the local Fire Department.
Salcedo's brother, Juan, said he was not surprised by Monday's turnout. He spoke of continuing his brother's legacy, and about a foundation created in his name to raise money to send students to college. But he also spoke about going to Gomez Palacio with his mother, to see "Bobby," and to bring him home. His brother's body was expected to arrive Monday night, and the funeral has been scheduled for Thursday.
During the rally, the Mountain View High student choir sang the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'." Four police helicopters flew overhead in the night sky before one veered off alone to the west. Amy Minick, a teacher at the school, recalled Salcedo's youthful exuberance as a student, his ability to rally others, but also his less serious side.
"He was into sports, but let's face it, he was a nerd and a goofball too," she said to laughs. "People mattered to Bobby."
Lisette Saucedo, 27, a teacher at South El Monte High School, said Salcedo had inspired her to that career when he was a young teacher there.
"He was loving, inspirational, always with a smile," she said as her voice choked. "He always knew how to brighten your day. Always."
"He always had a joke for you," her friend and teacher at Rosemead High School, Sandra Guerrero, 27, said. "But he was also there to give you a little push when you needed it."
On the night he died, Salcedo and his wife, Betzy, had ventured out with a group of her friends. They went to the Iguana Ranas bar on Miguel Aleman Boulevard, which was only minutes walking distance from her family home.
About 2 a.m., gunmen burst into the bar and took away Salcedo and the other men, including one of Betzy's oldest friends, Luis Fernando Santillan Hernandez, 27, a lawyer, and two of his brothers. Another victim was Javier Gerardo Garcia Camargo, 28.
They were shot to death and dumped along a canal in a poor neighborhood called Sept. 11. In an interview with The Times shortly after the killing, Betzy Salcedo said that like many, she had always figured that people who had nothing to do with the country's drug war would not be targets. Investigators in Mexico said that they were looking into whether any of the people killed with Salcedo had criminal ties, but so far had found none.
On Monday, Griselda Jefferson, Salcedo's sister, said the timing of the killing made it especially hard to bring her brother's body back.
"Even the arrangements have been very difficult," she said before the rally. "Just getting him over here. The holidays made it even worse. The offices we needed paperwork from were closed."
Betzy Salcedo made a brief statement in a room adjoining the faculty cafeteria.
Behind her, a wall of photos of previous student body presidents formed a backdrop for television cameras. One of the students -- a handsome teenager wearing a suit and a smile -- was the man she would eventually marry.
She said her husband of two years made her feel safe. He kept her laughing, even when she felt down. He gave her confidence that she could pursue her dream of being a doctor in this country.