Hundreds of community members gathered at Los Cerritos Park Thursday night for a candlelight vigil to mourn the loss of a family of three that died after a suspected drunk driver hit them while they were walking home Halloween night.
The crowd huddled around a growing memorial of 30-year-old Joseph Awaida, his 32-year-old wife Raihan Dakhil and their 3-year-old son Omar. Pictures of the family were interspersed with bouquets of marigolds, handwritten messages and prayers at the corner of Country Club Drive and Los Cerritos Park Place, the corner near where they were all fatally struck by an SUV.
The hushed tone of the crowd was only broken by the sounds of the 405 Freeway in the distance before city leaders took turns expressing condolences to the family and urging the community to continue to support each other as the city grieves.
Dakhil’s father, Faisal briefly spoke to the crowd and thanked them for their outpouring of love and support. He recounted his daughter’s marriage to Awaida and the birth of their son Omar, who was named after Awaida’s brother who perished on a hiking trip in 2014, shortly before the couple married.
He said that his daughter loved Long Beach, and now, so does he.
“With the support of the community here, I feel something, almost joy,” Dakhil said. “It’s almost like a celebration.”
Awaida’s mother, Vera, also addressed the crowd that spilled into the streets neighboring the park. Speaking through tears, she also thanked the community before embracing the Dakhils.
“This was their community; this was their love; this was their life,” Vera Awaida said of her son’s family. “I’m so grateful for the first responders and everyone that’s been working behind the scenes and we feel the love and thank you very much.”
Scott and Margaret Kessel said they knew the Awaida family for over 25 years. They frequented the auto shop that the family owned and Joseph Awaida worked at. Three days before the crash they returned to the shop to pick up their car that was being serviced and met Dakhil and Omar for the first and only time.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Margaret Kessel said.
They said the family was well-known in the area because of the way they treated people through their business.
“Knowing Joe and his business, the way they treated everyone, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Scott said of large turnout to the vigil.
Yasmin Hussein knew the family through the mosque they attended. She said that they were regarded as very kind people who were deeply involved in the community. Hussein said that even their family was unaware of the extent of their volunteering at the mosque.
“I’m here to support the family and show my condolences,” Hussein said. “They were from the community and it was such a tragedy that has touched everyone.”
While many in the crowd knew the family in some capacity, many others came as strangers who merely wanted to pay their respects. Rodrigo Rodriguez lives in the area and his two sons, Ian and Diego, who attend Los Cerritos Elementary.
They were also out trick-or-treating in the neighborhood the night the Awaida family was killed, and he said it just as easily could have been him and his sons. Rodriguez and his sons gathered in front of the memorial before and after the vigil. He held an acoustic guitar and his sons with clarinets, played the song Vaya Con Dios.
The song popularized by Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1950s translates to “Go with God.”
“We just heard about the news and my guess was that there wasn’t going to be any music playing,” said Rodriguez, who is a mariachi. “Funerals without music are really sad.”
This is Rodrigo Rodriguez and his sons Ian and Diego. They didn’t know the family but Rodrigo, who is a mariachi, said he felt compelled to perform because “funerals without music are very sad.” pic.twitter.com/rVqdcdzp2s
— Jason Ruiz (@JasonRuiz_LB) November 8, 2019
As the crowd begin to disperse and others mulled around, some adding to the growing collection of candles at the memorial and others sharing memories of the young family, Rodriguez and his son serenaded them one final time.
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