For three months, Fidel Amezcua, known to most by the name Happy, fought for his life.
But on Saturday the 29-year-old, who worked as a custodian for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, succumbed to the injuries from a gunshot wound to his abdomen that had left him in critical condition on June 26.
“I want people to know that he fought. He didn’t give up,” said his older sister, Maria Olmedo. “Even the doctors were surprised – they said he should have died that night.”
At approximately 12:15 a.m. on June 26, police reported that a man has been shot on the corner of 24th and Shotwell streets and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital in life-threatening condition. Police have not reported an arrest in the shooting.
Unable to breathe without support, Amezcua was stabilized by a ventilator, according to his sister.
Twice, Amezcua was able to communicate with his family. Talking was difficult for him, said Olmedo, because of a trach tube that pierced his throat. Still, when he did come to, he told his sister that he was “sorry for what happened.”
“I told him, ‘It’s okay,’” said Olmedo. On most days, Amezcua was unable to speak but was “alert,” she said.
But internal wounds from the gunshot, followed by multiple surgeries and heavy medication, had caused severe trauma to his organs. On Sunday, Amezcua died of kidney failure, surrounded by his family.
Before working for Recreation and Parks, Amezcua worked as a bus cleaner for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, according to his Facebook page.
“My son was working to help me pay the bills – whenever they called him, he would go,” said his mother, Guadalupe Olmedo, who is from Mexico but raised her family in the 23rd and Folsom home where Amezcua continued to live until his death.
It was the second time that the mother of five was mourning the loss of a child. In 2013, Amezcua’s older sister died of liver failure, the mother said, and the death had haunted her son.
“When my sister passed he was locked up, in jail,” said Olmedo, Amezcua’s sister. “He got out of jail a couple days after to bury her. He had a lot of guilt about that.”
On Tuesday evening, friends and family gathered at the site of the shooting to mourn. Some clutching tall cans wrapped in brown paper bags, they lit candles and greeted each other through tears.
For many, it was a scene all too familiar. A teenage girl sprayed “R.I.P. Happy” on the Shotwell Street side wall of a liquor store he had frequented moments before the shooting – the message is scrawled next to another farewell tag that reads “Rigo.”
“There’s been a lot of tragedy on this corner,” said Olmedo. Less than a week after Amezcua was shot, his best friend was gunned down on that same corner. Rigoberto Romero, 27, died minutes after neighbors and family reported hearing six gunshots at 11:45 p.m. on July 1.
The two men had known each other since childhood, and attended elementary school together.
“My brother got shot on Sunday, and Rigo died Friday,” said Olmedo, shaking her head in disbelief – even the trajectories of the friends’ final moments were parallel.
Both had headed to George’s Market, located at the intersection, which neighbors say is a central meeting point for many who grew up in the neighborhood.
Olmedo said that her brother never learned of his best friend’s death. “We wanted to wait until he got better, because we thought it would affect him,” she said. “But he never did.”
Another man was injured in a shooting at 24th and Shotwell streets that followed the attacks on Amezcua and Romero. The weeks of violence instilled fear in many who live near the intersection.
Earlier on Tuesday, before the vigil, two teenage boys said that they were worried about drive-by shootings. On Monday night, one of the boys reported seeing a truck drive by the memorial site slowly.
“They were ducking, it looked like the car was driving itself,” he said.
“It’s a struggle for power,” said Amezcua’s brother, who gave his name as Larry, about the neighborhood violence. “When you think of the Mission you think of 24th. That’s the heart. There’s a struggle for it – I don’t know who wants it. But it’s the city, it belongs to everybody.”
It is unclear why, or by whom, Amezcua was targeted.
Guadalupe, the mother, said she no longer feels safe in the neighborhood where her family has lived for 25 years. She said she wished for the city and police to do more to protect residents – she asked for the installment of street lights and cameras on the block.
Amezcua was given the name “Happy” because that was his default, said his sister. “He was always smiling.”
“Happy really did fill his name,” said community organizer Oscar Salinas, of the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition. Salinas said that Amezcua would join him and other activists on marches demanding justice in the 2014 police shooting of Alex Nieto. “He always had a smile and was laughing.”
Shortly before his death, Salinas said that Amezcua had applied for a job with the postal service.
“He was turning his life around,” said Salinas. “Happy was a hard worker. I’d see him always in his work clothes.”
Olmedo said she admired her brother’s outgoing personality. “Whenever we’d go out anywhere, people would say hi to him. Sometimes I was jealous.”
The woman showed a cell phone photo of a burly man with thick brows, wearing a black cap that read “Mission” in orange lettering, a white t-shirt, and a grin that carved into his cheeks. “People always said we looked alike,” she said.
Amezcua’s mother said that her son had a heart as big as his smile. “I’ll always remember how he told me ‘I love you viejita, go to bed,” she said, sinking her head onto a friend’s shoulder. “He always made sure I’d go to sleep.”