Dealing with the loss of an Echo Park boy named Roberto

Hundreds of people, many wearing t-shirts bearing the photo of slain four-year-old Roberto Lopez, attended the boy’s funeral this morning at the Los Angeles cathedral. While the services are over, one mile away, in the southern edge of Echo Park where Roberto was shot, the boy’s friends who attended a neighborhood art and educational center with him will continue to deal with his loss.

The bullet fired by an alleged gang member struck Roberto while he and his sister stood in front of Spiraling Orchard, a former house and some empty lots on Court Street that have been transformed into an art park, classroom and gathering space. It’s here where kids and young people ranging in age from 2 to 20 drop by for arts & crafts, after-school homework help and other programs offered through an organization called Arts-Community-Land-Activism. Roberto, who had been coming to Spiraling Orchard for about eight months, enjoyed creating artwork out of glitter and sequins, said associate director Efrim Chiavetta.

The staff and volunteers have watched the kids react in different ways since the shooting.
“A couple of the kids have been saying things like, ‘You need to stay with us or we will be shot, like Robert,”‘ Chiavetta said. “So, [the emotions] are coming out.”

But, for the most part, the Spiraling Orchard kids have impressed the adults by playing an active role. They have helped out with fundraising car washes, made cookies and helped provide food to the many mourners visiting Roberto’s family home.

“We thought we would see a lot more fear … a lot more withdrawl and isolation,” Chiavetta said in an interview earlier this week. Instead, “there are more kids in the park in the past week or so than there have been ever before.”

One of the more popular projects this past week at Spiraling Orchard was creating memorial buttons from the glitter and sequins Roberto loved.

“A lot of the neighborhood kids liked that,” Chiavetta said. “That was very good for them.”

Photo: ACLA on MySpace

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