A Life That Almost Happened

A Phoenix cop gunned down Alfonso Celaya four months ago. His family still waits for justice, or at least an explanation.

"He was like my husband -- he gave me money, made the car payments," Lidia says. "It's more difficult without him for many reasons. I lost my husband, my child, my friend, my everything. And of all my kids, he was the most caring."

Lidia now has to explain to her young grandchildren why the police killed their uncle. Her grandchildren tell her that if they had been there, they would have killed the police. As children, they have already learned police are the enemy. It's a lesson many of the witnesses also took away from Alfonso Celaya's shooting.

"I'm scared now if a cop stops me on the freeway -- what if I go to get my license and he thinks I have a gun and shoots me?" Estrella Sanchez says.

A Phoenix police officer frisks patrons on their way into Club Orfeón. The club hires armed, uniformed, off-duty officers to work outside the club at 16th Street and Monroe in Central Phoenix.
Paolo Vescia
A Phoenix police officer frisks patrons on their way into Club Orfeón. The club hires armed, uniformed, off-duty officers to work outside the club at 16th Street and Monroe in Central Phoenix.

Rafael Espinoza has learned the same paranoia.

"I'm afraid of the police -- it's the only thing I'm afraid of," Rafa says. "They killed Alfonso como si fuera un perro." Like he was a dog.

Alfonso's sister Miriam has turned to religion for answers to why her favorite brother is gone. "I guess God wanted him," Miriam says. "I want to believe that because I don't want to think the world is cruel."

It may have been God's will, but it was a Phoenix police officer's finger that pulled the trigger of the gun that shot and killed Alfonso Celaya. The family can't understand why the Hispanic community isn't expressing outrage. They think of the recent case in Cincinnati where a cop killed a young black kid, and rioters took to the streets. In Celaya's case, 300 people showed up to the funeral, but only a small fraction of that number went on to the march protesting his death.

The Hispanic community mourned Alfonso Celaya's death very well. But they aren't fighting for the truth about why he was killed.

Had it not been for family friend Jonathan Kraut, the Caudillo-Celaya family themselves might not be fighting for answers. Kraut, a private investigator out of Los Angeles, encouraged the family to hire lawyers to investigate the shooting. Otherwise, they may have believed they were powerless to challenge Alfonso's killing. The family may have accepted Alfonso's fate, continued to fear the police and left it up to God to sort out in the end.

Instead, litigation will sort out the circumstances surrounding Alfonso Celaya's death. Lawyers for the Caudillo-Celaya family plan to file a claim of wrongful death this week. For Miriam Celaya, the result of the lawsuit will be little consolation for the loss of her brother.

Miriam's waist-long, wavy black hair sways side to side as she makes her way through the small Central Phoenix house to her little brother's back bedroom. She cleared his things from his room after he died. The only remnant is the computer she bought for him to use when he went back to college. When she dreams of her brother now, it is always the same.

She pushes through the bedroom door and sees him lying on the bed, eyes closed, a smile gracing his lips.

"We love you," she tells him.

Then Miriam wakes up. And remembers her little brother is buried in Mexico.

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Is Lowell Spalla related to the special operations officer Leon Spalla in Tucson?

 
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