Ruben Gonzalez Morejon, Hector Morejon's oldest brother, speaks at the vigil Friday night. Photos by Keeley Smith.
Family and friends of Hector Morejon lined the staircase of St. Matthews Church in Cambodia Town Friday, holding signs graced with the face of Hector Morejon. They lit candles in his memory and spoke of his life—as well as their desire for answers.
The family of Morejon, the unarmed 19-year-old killed in an officer-involved shooting in Cambodia Town on April 23, hosted a vigil Friday night, where they addressed those gathered, demanding justice from the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD).
Morejon’s oldest brother Ruben Gonzalez Morejon came forward at the vigil and asked the LBPD to release Morejon’s body.
“We want justice, and we want our brother,” Ruben Morejon, one of five of Morejon’s siblings, said. “They don’t want to give us our little brother, and that’s the big question that we want to find out.”
According to Morejon family lawyer Samuel Paz, the LBPD has not released the body of Morejon, although the autopsy was completed. He said the return time for a body after a shooting usually takes no more than 4-5 days after the autopsy, though “it’s not uncommon for a short hold on the body for data.”
“I’m hoping that’s why they’re doing it [still holding the body],” Paz said. “But I think the only way we can get the truth is in court.”
LBPD Deputy Chief of Investigations David Hendricks said the LBPD has no jurisdiction on when the body is released from the coroner's office, and there is no such thing as putting a "hold" on someone's body that he knows of.
"We have rules we have to follow and I can’t put a hold on the body when there’s no such thing—I don’t have the legal authority," Hendricks said.
He said the autopsy was completed on Tuesday and that reports typically take several months to complete—"anywhere from three to six, depending on the coroner." Typically, the body is returned to the family as soon as the autopsy is done. Hendricks said the coroner's office doesn’t need a body to complete their report; they need the body for the examination and then they use the examination to write the report.
At this point in time, the LBPD has also refused to share the name of the officer who shot Morejon. Hendricks said they are following protocol, which involves protecting the safety of the officer involved. Once an officer's name is released, Hendricks said, all of their information generally pops up on the internet, including where they live and their social security number.
"Most of the time, they post [this information]," Hendricks said. "If you read in the comments, people are encouraging people to do things," like harm the police officer and their family.
The shooting took place on April 23, when LBPD officers arrived at a residential multi-unit complex in Cambodia Town in response to reports of several subjects trespassing inside of and vandalizing a vacant residence.
When looking through an open window, the officer reportedly observed the suspect, later identified as Morejon, turn toward him and extend his “arm out as if pointing an object which the officer perceived was a gun," according to a statement from the LBPD. No weapons were found at the scene.
Three other individuals were arrested on trespassing charges, and one individual was charged with trespassing and a gang injunction.
In an interview on April 27, Lt. Cox of the LBPD said the District Attorney’s office and the Coroner’s office were conducting separate reviews of the incident. He said it usually takes four to six months for the Coroner’s office to complete their investigation and get back to police.
Cox also said the shooting last week was the first fatal shooting of the three officer-involved shootings that have occurred this year.
Paz cited grim statistics from a Police Assessment Resource Center report on Los Angeles County shootings, stating that 64 percent of those shot in officer-involved shootings since 2000 were Latino, and half were unarmed, according to Paz.
Throughout the vigil, family and friends adorned the steps of the church with their signs and candles, speaking fondly of Morejon.
“He was funny—never known to be violent,” Danny Morejon, one of Morejon’s older brothers said.
He and other friends emphasized an ongoing fundraiser at GoFundMe.com to raise money for Morejon’s burial. As of 11:30PM Friday, $1,771 of the requested $13,600 has been contributed.
Ruben Morejon said his brother was working part-time with his father at the time of the incident, and was excited to start a new job that would involve driving a forklift. He said he was a hard worker, and had aspirations to go to school—a dream he will never have the chance to fulfill.
Reflecting on the past week, Morejon said the impact of his brother’s death goes beyond Long Beach.
He said it’s not just about his brother, but “about everything that’s going on [with] police brutality[...] that doesn’t justify their excessive force to take someone’s life."
Lucia Morejon, Hector Morejon's mother, shares her final memories of her son.
This article was updated on 5/2/15 at 8:54AM with information from Deputy Chief David Hendricks from the LBPD regarding Hector Morejon's autopsy.
This article was updated on 5/3/15 at 4:26AM with updated statistics regarding Los Angeles County shootings.