Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 | 2 a.m.
As a pastor was leading sobbing mourners in prayer Saturday afternoon, a fierce wind gust ripped through the group of friends and strangers alike who gathered for the memorial.
It had not been 48 hours since a mother and her two sons were slain in this Henderson neighborhood, not far from where grief-stricken attendees stood in remembrance on a grassy field.
Many were so emotionally upset that their bodies shook as they cried uncontrollably. They hugged one another and released white balloons with messages written on them.
“I felt like that gust of wind that did come through here during the prayer was them,” said Jonathan Maturell in addressing the mostly teenage crowd.
Some shouted in response, “yeah” and “amen.”
“It’s like he’s still here,” a teenage boy later lamented to another teen.
Maturell told a heartbreaking account of heroism from the incident. In his final moments, his 15-year-old nephew, Arias, had an opportunity to escape the onslaught at 1146 Paradise Garden Drive.
His sister had escaped, Maturell said, but 5-year-old Avi was still in the home. The teen “chose to run back into the home, because he didn’t want to leave his youngest brother there,” Maturell said through tears.
Arias, Avi, and their mother, Selina Rowsell, 35, died Thursday. First responders arrived about 7:30 p.m. to find a house in flames and their bodies, as well as that of the suspect who shot them before turning the gun on himself.
“That was the epitome of who Arias was,” he said. “He was all about his family at such a young age and to see someone who understood the concept of family in its purest form. ...I felt like that was the one thing that I will always, always remember from Arias.”
Henderson Police still haven't released many details on what transpired or described the relationship between the victims and the 27-year-old suspect. They initially said the tragedy had stemmed from a family argument.
Neighbor Valerie Galarza on Friday described hearing gunshot blasts, and immediately looking outside to see the suspect’s vehicle parked in front of the house with its engine running and its lights on. The suspect is believed to have ended a relationship with Rowsell recently, Galarza said.
Another of Arias’ uncles, Ricardo Franco, told the sobbing mourners about the “good kid.” Franco shares the suspect’s last name, but they aren’t related.
“He was one of the good ones,” he said. “Selina was a great mother. She was a wonderful person; a beautiful person. Avi was one of the cutest little 5-year-olds I’ve ever seen. He was full of life.”
“I just want to tell them that I hope they hear me and I hope they can see us right now; see everybody that is here and they know that we love them and we’re here for them. I hope that they look on us,” Franco continued.
Then came the release of the balloons, and with it came increasingly painful cries. A woman threw herself on the ground with her head down and her hands over it. Another woman helped her up.
Arias’ teenage friends requested his favorite song — “Amber” by 311 — play over the speakers.
Saturday’s event was previously been planned as a community barbecue. Young neighborhood children in bathing suits, likely not aware of the tragedy in their neighborhood, played on jumpers and slid down an inflatable water slide.
After the brief ceremony, two crying teens embraced. “I can’t go up the street,” said one of them. The family’s white minivan was still parked in the driveway of the boarded-up house, said the other.
A group of them did make the short walk to Paradise Garden, and gathered in the house’s backyard, which was occupied by a trampoline, a grill and a table. More tears were shed.
In the front door, which was covered with a large wood plank, rested three bouquets of flowers, a rosary and toy cars placed in honor of Avi.
Before walking away, a teenager peeked through the family’s vehicle and nodded his head.
The victims’ family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 for Rowsell’s surviving daughter and unexpected expenses. By Saturday afternoon, it’d garnered more than $12,000 out of the $20,000 goal.