Kennedy High football coach Mack Carminer walked slowly to the 50-yard line on Friday — minutes before the team’s first home game — to hold a brief ceremony in honor of “a fallen soldier.” Followed by members of the school administration Carminer carried the framed Eagles jersey of Ulises Grijalva, a player who was killed on August 5.
Taking the microphone, Carminer bowed his head and called for a moment of silence. The sound of teenagers’ laughter and teasing that had reverberated throughout the stadium just moments earlier ceased.
“He was a good boy,” Carminer said. “Good student. Good football player. He always had a smile on his face.”
Grijalva, or Solis as his friends called him, was 16 years old when he was shot and killed while walking near his family’s apartment in the Iron Triangle.
Grijalva’s parents and sister stood in front of Carminer, wiping their eyes and at times covering their faces as the held back tears. When he’d finished speaking, Carminer presented Grijalva’s parents with his jersey, signed by all of his teammates, and thanked them for a son who loved football, and who was loved by his teammates and coaches. Grijalva’s mother Enriqeutta and father Jose sobbed quietly as they accepted it.
“We still can’t believe it,” Grijalva’s sister Mitzu said after the ceremony. “He’s gone. We really miss him.”
Enriquetta spoke briefly in Spanish as her daughter translated. “It’s really nice to see the team really appreciated him,” she said. “They’ve helped us out a lot.”
Eyes red and shining with tears, she described her youngest child, as someone that “always had a smile on his face.”
“He was friendly and sweet,” she said. “A happy person.”
Police say they still don’t know why Grijalva was killed. Immediately following the shooting Lt. Bisa French said they suspected it was gang violence, but Grijalva is not suspected of being in a gang. In an earlier interview with ABC 7, KGO-TV Grijalva’s family said they believe he was shot because he was wearing red, the color of his favorite teams– the San Francisco 49ers, and of course, the Kennedy High Eagles.
Two men are in custody in relation to the killing: Matthew John Capanis, 26, of Lafayette and Jacob Stephens, 29, of Antioch. Detective Nicole Abetkov said the police are investigating first-degree murder charges for both of the suspects. Capanis and Stephens should face arraignment next week.
“They killed an innocent person,” Mitzu said. “Who knows how many other people they’ve killed?”
Teachers, family and friends described Grijalva in the same way his mother did– as a nice, respectful young man.
“He was always liked by everyone,” Kennedy P.E. teacher Harry Campbell said. Grijalva worked as Campbell’s teaching assistant, and Campbell described how Grijalva would often help settle arguments between people. “He would always play the politician for both sides,” Campbell said.
The day after his death Grijalva was suppose to start two-a-day summer training with the team. He was an offensive lineman– those who knew him said he was good at it.
Though Grijalva wasn’t on the field Friday night with his teammates, they carried remembrances of him with them. On the back of each of their helmets was a small decal with his number, 75, and beneath it his initials—UG. Carminer walked the sidelines in a red T-shirt with GRIJALVA and the number 75 emblazoned on his back. In the stands Grijalva’s family members watched the game; each of them wore a bright blue button with a picture of the young man’s face on it.
“He left a big hole on the team,” Carminer said, watching his players walk out of the stadium after the game. “They’re feeling it. We’re all feeling it.”