“He was the happiness of our home”: East High student Luis Garcia’s father speaks out for the first time since son’s death

The family is planning on bringing a lawsuit against the Denver School District and the School Board.
5 min. read
The parents of slain East High School student Luis Garcia, Criselda Bobadilla and Santos Garcia, embrace at a press conference at City Park on May 19, 2023.
Obed Manuel/Denverite

On Friday, Santos Garcia returned to East High School for the first time since his son, Luis Garcia, was shot as he sat in a car outside the school in February. Luis died two weeks later.

Speaking out for the first time since Luis' death, Garcia called for school security and accountability for Denver Public Schools (DPS) officials.

"Every day I wake up and I look out the window to see if I see my son. The birthdays, Mother's Day, they're not the same anymore. Our lives changed," he said through an interpreter at a press conference Friday. "I don't want any more families being hurt like ours. We lost a good kid, a very good human being."

Last week, Matthew Barringer, a lawyer for the family, sent notice about plans to file a lawsuit against the Denver School District and Board of Education.

"We're looking in reality for three things: action, answers and accountability," Barringer said Friday. "Answers: How could this happen? Action: What is Denver Public School to School Board going to do in the future to avert a tragedy such as this? And accountability? Well, I think that's pretty self explanatory. The Garcia's want those who they believe are responsible to be held accountable for the murder of Luis Garcia in front of East High School."

Santos Garcia, brother of Luis Garcia, speaks to press with his family behind him at City Park on May 19, 2023.
Obed Manuel/Denverite

Parents, students and community members gathered around the family, holding signs with pictures of Luis Garcia and the words "¡Exigimos respuestas!" which translates to "We demand answers!"

Family members got choked up talking about Luis -- his love of soccer, his new part-time job, their final memories with him.

"How can we be fully happy knowing he's gone?" asked Luis Garcia's older sister Jovana Garcia. "We went from sharing a room all our lives, Santos [Luis' brother], Luis and me, to not having our brother at all. This is not fair. How can I even think about healing or trying to be okay knowing this could happen again, when there could be another family in our situation? Where's the justice?"

Luis Garcia's mother, Criselda Bobadilla, sat behind the family crying.

"I have three kids," Luis Garcia's father said through an interpreter. "He was the son that would sit with me and talk. I love the three of them the same, but he was the closest to me. He was the happiness of our home."

The family made clear what they want from the school district: security on campus.

About a month after Luis Garcia was shot, and two weeks after he died from his injuries, a student shot and injured two administrators inside East High. The March shooting, on the heels of Luis Garcia's death, sparked a wave of calls for more security and safety inside DPS campuses.

Students marched twice on the State Capitol that month demanding gun reform. Some parents, students and community members called for the school board to return Student Resource Officers (SROs), or armed officers, to schools, after the board voted to remove them in response to racial justice protests in 2020.

In the hours following the second shooting, Superintendent Alex Marrero unilaterally moved to return SROs. The school board voted in support, temporarily rolling back its 2020 decision and allowing schools to make their own choices about armed officers. The board is considering reversing the policy altogether.

The family said it should not have taken a second shooting for leaders to take action. A few hundred feet away from the Friday press conference, a police car sat outside East High, just like it has every day since a student shot the administrators in March.

"We want security. That's the word that I would like to just make straight and simple. Because if you are here to support us, it's because you want security and safety for your kids. Something that we didn't have," Santos Garcia said through an interpreter. "Do you see the security that is 200 feet from us? That's the security that I'm talking about."

Santos Garcia (center), father of slain East High School student Luis Garcia, speaks to press at City Park on May 19, 2023.
Obed Manuel/Denverite

In the weeks since the March shooting, parents have been organizing weekly under a group called the Parents-Safety Advisory Group, advocating for more community input into school safety. The advocacy group organized the press conference with the Garcia and Bobadilla family.

But conversations over police in schools are complicated. When the school board voted to remove SROs in 2020, they cited data showing officers ticketed Black and Latino students at higher rates. And a history of U.S. police violence and misconduct, including in Denver, makes some people less safe around armed officers.

For Santos Garcia, it's not so black and white.

"This is a school with about 2,000 students," he said through an interpreter. "We don't want 100 policemen. We just want some type of security."

Garcia told Denverite after the press conference that he would want to see the DPS board ensure proper training is available for anyone who would be in charge of keeping students safe on campus.

"You can't treat a 14-, 17- or 18-year-old the same way you treat an adult," Garcia said in Spanish. "Maybe sometimes they don't have that tact, but I imagine there is training and resources for the police or people who do security work."

Denverite editor Obed Manuel contributed reporting.

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