Montbello residents mourn recent gun deaths and fight perceptions of their neighborhood

At dusk on Tuesday, Montbello community members gathered on a residential block to mourn 17-year-old Byron Ware’s death.

KEVIN-lighter
Byron Ware's friends and family release balloons with notes written to him where he was murdered just days prior. Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  montbello; crime; gun violence; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; vigil;

Byron Ware's friends and family release balloons with notes written to him where he was murdered just days prior. Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

At dusk on Tuesday, Montbello community members gathered on a residential block to mourn 17-year-old Byron Ware’s death.

The teen, along with 18-year-old Abisai Ponce Gutierrez, was killed by gunfire last Saturday night. Denver police have arrested two men, Octavio Morales and Kylvito Garrette, on first degree murder charges.

With candles in hand, friends and family wrote messages to Ware on balloons and then released them into the darkening sky.

A few hours earlier, before the family arrived, faith leaders, police officers and city council members held a march at Melvin F. Silverman Park calling for an end to violence in the community. They also called for new understanding. While Montbello has a reputation for violence, the speakers said, gun and gang issues affect the city and nation as a whole.

“That is not who we are,” District 11 Councilwoman and longtime Montbello resident Stacie Gilmore said to the crowd. “I ask those other communities around Denver to come and support us. Don’t point a finger at us. Don’t talk about us. Be part of the solution with us.”

Byron's siblings huddle together crying. One could hear, "My brother is gone!" A vigil for Byron Ware, who was shot and killed just days prior. Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  montbello; crime; gun violence; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; vigil;

Byron's siblings huddle together crying. One could hear, "My brother is gone!" (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ware’s and Gutierrez’s deaths were followed by more violence in Gilmore’s district. The following night, another person was shot at a King Soopers in Green Valley Ranch. The shooting that killed Ware and Gutierrez, Westword reported, was the third fatal event on that block in 18 months.

Gayland Allen, a football and track coach at nearby Montbello High School, said his students have been disturbed by recent incidents.

“Some are shocked and some are just fed up,” he said. “There’s a lot of senseless violence going on.”

But these recent episodes aren’t typical for the area, Allen said.  Most teens, he said, “are doing well. But all it takes is two bad episodes and it makes us all look like there’s hell to pay.”

Montbello High School Coach Gayland Allen stumbled upon this rally by accident. A rally to end violence in Montbello after a rash of murders in the area. Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  montbello; crime; gun violence; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado;

Montbello High School Coach Gayland Allen stumbled upon this rally by accident. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Police Commander Ron Thomas, whose District 5 encompasses both Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, echoed Allen’s sentiment.

“Tragedies strike all over the city,” he said. “It’s unusual for so many to happen in this specific area.” These recent incidents, he continued, were all unrelated.

8-year-old Dae'Aunna (left to right), Kiera Jackson and District 5 Commander Ron Thomas at a rally to end violence in Montbello after a rash of murders in the area. Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  montbello; crime; gun violence; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado;

8-year-old Dae'Aunna (left to right), Kiera Jackson and District 5 Commander Ron Thomas after the march. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Police Department data shows that Montbello isn’t the Denver neighborhood with the most crime. Counting all reported crimes between 2014 and autumn of 2017, it ranks fifth. But, relative to the rest of the city, the neighborhood has high rates of violent crime. There were more murders reported in Montbello — 18 — during that time than any other neighborhood and it ranked second in aggravated assaults.

Still, for neighborhood advocates like Rev. James Fouther of the United Church of Montbello, outsiders’ perceptions of violence in the community outpace reality.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5pT5woXNrM?rel=0

“We know the story of violence continues to touch this community,” he said at the rally. “But that story seems to get out more readily than the stories of peace in this community, the stories of hardworking people… the stories of those who just want to raise their families.”

For Coach Allen, the perception of violence is all a matter of perspective. He grew up in Detroit and said he knows what truly high crime rates look like. Of Montbello, he said, “It’s still paradise.”

A vigil for Byron Ware, who was shot and killed just days prior. Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  montbello; crime; gun violence; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; vigil;

A vigil for Byron Ware at the spot where was shot and killed just days prior. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Paradise, at least, on most days. For now, that’s not the case for Byron Ware’s family. Surrounded by their community, they’ve only begun to put their son and brother to rest.

If you’d like to help Byron’s family raise money for funeral expenses, you can donate to their gofundme campaign.

Hi! You’re like us!

Looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the ends of articles! Well, true believer, you might really like our morning newsletter. It’s quick, free and gets you up to speed on the important and delightful things happening right here in Denver.

Thanks for reading another Denverite story

Does Denverite help you feel more connected to what’s up in your area? Do you want to be a part of it?

Member donations are critical to our continued existence and growth.

You’re our superpower

Denverite supporters have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.

You’re our superpower

Denverite members have made the decision to financially support local journalism that matters to you. Ready to tell your networks why? Sharing our “About” page with your own personal comments could really help us out.