Sean Monterrosa shrine
Napaquetzalli was asked by members of Horizon Unlimited to create this altar for Sean. The base says "Tucan" in graffiti to honor his love of art. Multiple people passed by and prayed and added their own images to the altar.

Much like his native Mission District, Sean Monterrosa was all about art. 

As a kid, he constantly doodled the colorful Froot Loops cartoon Toucan Sam, which led a childhood friend to dub him “Tucan.” The nickname, spelled the Spanish way, stuck. 

So when Monterrosa’s loved ones found out the 22-year-old was fatally shot on June 2 by Vallejo police, they decided to honor him with a day of his own — Tucan’s Day — which kicked off for the first time with a block party on the street where he grew up. Artists handed out free made-to-order tee shirts with spray-painted toucans and displayed paintings with his grinning face. 

The memorial celebrations have continued: last week, his sisters Michelle, 24, and Ashley, 20, grinned in front of a new mural of him. That same weekend, Precita Eyes encouraged Sean Monterrosa-themed graffiti for its 24th annual Urban Youth festival. 

“More than anything, artists in the city are doing what they can to keep his name alive,” Michelle said. 

A newly unveiled mural depicts Sean and his sisters Michelle (left) and Ashley (right). Courtesy of justice4sean_ Instagram account.

See “Photos from Tucan’s Day: a block party in remembrance of Sean Monterrosa.”

Childhood

Monterrosa was born on April 24, 1998, to two Argentine immigrant parents, Neftali and Laura Monterrosa. Neftali, a Beatles fanatic, named Sean after John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s son of the same name. (Michelle was named after the band’s song, according to their father.)

The three siblings felt like triplets, the sisters said, sharing one room in the small apartment where they have lived since elementary school. As for many Latino families, quality family time was important.

“We were Mission babies,” Michelle said. “We loved being born and raised here.”

As a child, Monterrosa was shy but confident, and showed an early love of reading and art. 

Monterrosa’s father treated him to superhero comics from a now-nonexistent store in the Castro. Neftali remembered how the quiet boy would intently read the newspaper on Muni bus rides or at the table. The pair would shoot hoops at Holly Park and grab cake at Dianda’s bakery on Mission Street for special occasions. 

“He was kind of shy, but he says what he thinks,” Neftali said. 

Adolescence

As a teen, Monterrosa had a vision of creating generational wealth to pass on to his family. His sisters said at age 14, he sold hot dogs outside dance clubs in the Mission before he could get a real job. 

“He always had a big drive and hustled and tried to make a name for himself,” Ashley said. “To this day, he’s the most hardworking person I know.”

He went to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Leadership High School and graduated from Independence High School in 2016. An old classmate, Angelica Castro, said she and Monterrosa would joke in Spanish class, and if they got in trouble, he would always take the fall. 

Monterrosa volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club in the Excelsior and participated in Horizons Unlimited, a local Latino youth empowerment nonprofit. 

From late 2014 to 2017, Monterrosa was a participant and later youth leader of Horizons Unlimited according to the organization’s program director Nancy Abdul-Shakur, who co-organized Tucan’s Day. His open and kind energy always kept him surrounded by his peers — many of whom were young ladies enamored with his good looks. 

“When he was in the room, people felt that he was in the room,“ Abdul-Shakur said. 

During Horizons discussions, it was clear his reading shaped his perspective. A few of his favorites were Malcom X’s autobiography, and The 48 Laws of Power. 

“He was very focused on the knowledge of self,” Abdul-Shakur said. “He felt like that was what he needed to give himself more power.”

Sometimes, the three siblings would launch into ideological Socratic debates at dinner that were related to his readings. 

“His mind was so powerful,” Michelle said. 

Qing Qi, a Horizons mentor to Monterrosa and a locally based artist, remembered that Monterrosa came in like many of the Horizon youth — frustrated with discrimination and violence. She rapped and sang at Tucan’s Day. 

He brought flowers to the family of his friend Vanessa Guillory, who was shot in 2018, Vanessa’s brother Sean Guillory Jr. recalled at Tucan’s Day.  

“He was just elevating,” Qing Qi said, adding that he had a warrior spirit and was passionate about poetry. 

It was important to Monterrosa to preserve his heritage — and the Mission’s — especially as gentrification seeped into the neighborhood, his sisters said. 

As a young man, Monterrosa bought a 1970 Dodge Dart, which he wanted to fix up as a nod to the low-riders that cruised the blocks and he loved his tattoos. One showcased the city’s skyline and a clown girl, a common Chicano symbol his sister said.

“He always wanted to put other people’s art on his body,” Michelle said. “He was more than proud to show he was a San Francisco native.”

His tattoos and skin color sometimes led people to racially profile Monterrosa or mistake him as unfriendly, his sisters said. But any time a new neighbor moved in, he always knocked on their door and welcomed them. 

After he graduated from Independence, Monterrosa moved in with his longtime girlfriend and took an 11-week carpentry pre-apprenticeship program with JobTrain that led to a construction job. 

Final months with family

As coronavirus sent many people back home, Monterrosa returned home, too. 

He got to celebrate his 22nd birthday this year surrounded by family and with his favorite dishes: Argentine style parilla barbeque and a dessert of brownies and ice cream. He also spent this past Mother’s Day with his mom, waiting an hour outside Dianda’s to pick up a cake. 

At the end of May, George Floyd protests overtook the city, and Monterrosa decided to join. His last text message to his sisters asked them to sign a petition demanding justice for George Floyd. 

Read “More than 100 gather at 24th and Mission for police shooting victim Sean Monterrosa.”

On June 2, Monterrosa was near a Walgreens in Vallejo that was being looted. When officers drove into the parking lot, they shot multiple times through the windshield after claiming to have seen a gun in Monterrosa’s pocket, which turned out to be a hammer. Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams had claimed that Monterrosa was on his knees with his hands up when a bullet shot by an officer fatally struck him in the neck, but later said Monterrosa was in a crouched half-kneeling position that appeared like he was ready to shoot. It is unknown why Monterrosa was in Vallejo that night.  

The family continues to demand justice for Monterrosa. Last week, Vallejo Police admitted that they had destroyed the windshield officers shot through, the Chronicle reported. Attorney General Xavier Becerra agreed to investigate the case after he heard the evidence had been destroyed. He originally declined to investigate even after the Vallejo District Attorney, Krishna Abrams, recused herself. Protests in the Mission and in Vallejo continue to be led by Ashley and Michelle. 

The Monterrosas said that despite the deep pain caused by the tragedy, the community’s solidarity continues to be a bright spot. 

On a random afternoon, Michelle and Ashley said they were driving down Valencia Street with their father, Neftali, when he discovered a poster gracing his son’s face with the word “Viva!” under it. 

“It says Sean right there,” Neftali said.

A poster commemorating Sean Monterrosa pasted to a board on Valencia Street. Photo by Annika Hom.

This story has been updated on July 22, 1:22 p.m. 

Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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9 Comments

    1. I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read “It is unknown why Sean was in Vallejo that night. ”

      He was near a pharmacy that was being looted and carrying a hammer.

  1. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    DATE: June 3, 2020
    MEDIA CONTACT: Brittany K. Jackson, Public Information Officer –
    Vallejo Police Department – VallejoPolicePIO@cityofvallejo.net
    

    VALLEJO POLICE DEPARTMENT ISSUES STATEMENT ON
    JUNE 2ND OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING

    VALLEJO – These are preliminary the facts as we know them at this time, please be advised that the criminal and administrative investigations into this matter are ongoing. On the night of June 2, 2020, officers throughout our City were responding to a variety of riot-related calls for service. Our officers were initially dispatched to the Walgreens on the 1000 Block of Redwood Street at approximately 10:17PM on June 1 st without incident, as looters fled the scene.

    At approximately 12:15am on June 2 nd , our officers received a return call, indicating that looters had returned to the Walgreens, and were attempting to break into the pharmacy located on the east side of the building. Officers were dispatched again, and at approximately 12:36am, a responding unit reported seeing 10-12 potential looters in the parking lot, turning his attention toward a male dressed in black, who appeared to be armed, in front of the business. The other responding officers, driving an unmarked police vehicle in full uniform, drove into the parking lot from the opposite side of initial responding unit.

    As this Police Vehicle drove into the parking lot of Walgreens, at least one officer observed potential looters entering two carloads of vehicles suspected of looting the business. At this time, both suspect vehicles began to drive out of the parking lot. The first vehicle, a silver truck, drove out of the parking lot first, driving around the first responding unit. The black colored sedan rammed into the initial responding unit, which caused the airbag to be deployed, and the vehicle to be disabled. The officer was injured as result of the collision, which appeared to be intentional. Both vehicles fled the scene, leading to a separate pursuit, in which the suspects in the silver truck were apprehended in Contra Costa County. The black sedan was not stopped.

    Simultaneous to these events, officers in the second responding unit observed a single male dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt standing on the east side of the building. The officers saw this individual begin running toward the black sedan when he stopped and abruptly turned toward the officers, crouching down in a half-kneeling position as if in preparation to shoot, and moving his hands toward his waist area near what appeared to be the butt of a handgun. Investigations later revealed that the weapon was a long, 15-inch hammer, tucked into the pocket of his sweatshirt.

    Due to this perceived threat, one officer fired his weapon five times from within the police vehicle, through the windshield, striking the suspect once, fatally wounding the suspect. The officers administered first aid, and the suspect was transported by paramedics to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased. Following the critical incident protocol, the Vallejo Police Department and Solano County District Attorney’s office are conducting a joint-criminal investigation.

    The suspect was identified as Sean Monterrosa, 22 year-old male from San Francisco. The suspect has a criminal history of shoplifting, petty theft, illegal weapons violations, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting into an inhabited dwelling, carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle, possession of narcotics for sale and attempted murdered.

    Investigators have made several attempts to contact next of kin.

    The officer who discharged his weapon has been placed on routine, paid administrative leave. The witness officers have also been placed on paid administrative leave. The Department is also conducting an Internal Affairs Investigation through our Professional Standards Unit.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact: Detective Kevin Rose at (707) 651-7146 or Detective Craig Long at (707) 648-4514

  2. Many can learn from this young man’s choice and actions. His choice and actions that cost him his life. People should look at this mural and ask themselves “Am I doing the Right Thing?” or will I be just another statistic..another dead Latino. On that night there was a citywide curfew as rioting, looting and Civil Unrest spread across the nation. Sean could have made the choice to check in on his Parents, his Family or have just made a choice to stay home. Instead he made a choice to travel with his friends to the city of Vallejo with the intent to possibly commit crime and loot. When the Police Officers arrived It appears that he was reaching in his jacket pocket to possibly throw away the hammer he was carrying as to discard the evidence of the hammer used to smash windows and loot the business. The Police Officers believed what they saw was a butt end or handle of a gun. This then lead to the young man being shot by the Police Officers. Meanwhile his friends who he traveled there with left him… left him to die. they never looked back, they drove off and abandoned him . There is only one person left to blame for the death of Sean Monterrosa and that is Sean Monterrosa. His choice that night, his choice to get the car with his friends, his choice to carry a hammer, his choice not to stay home, his choice. When are we going to start educating our Youth, our Culture our Raza that this has to stop.

  3. Heard about what happened, he was so young, but his choices were not wise, young people have to have strong sense now a days. Be observant and be aware people. The world as you are seeing it now isn’t the same. We need to come to our senses and stop doing things that can hurt others or hurt ourselves. Nothing good can come out of selfish choices. Had he stayed home and just stayed out of the madness his parents and siblings would not be so heartbroken and at a loss right now. Looting is too dangerous because you have accounts in which innocent people are physically assaulted by people who do these things, it just gives it all the more reason for law enforcement to go all out when there is this type of chaos all around. Looting has nothing to do in helping find solutions for systemic racism and other unfair systems in place.

  4. Disgusted by the comments here. Gaslighting by speculating about his motives and what he was doing as “wrong” – excuse me are you his judge/jury/executioner? Because the cop who shot him thought so. These are the only facts that matter (read: not opinions or biased speculation), taken from the LA times:

    “The officer fired five shots through the windshield of the unmarked car at Monterrosa, who died later at a hospital. He had no gun; tucked into the pocket of his sweatshirt was a 15-inch hammer, police said. “It’s a pretty outrageous shooting,” Burris said. “The officer’s life was not in danger.”

    Shot THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD of the car. Officer’s life WAS NOT in danger. This is not how police should function or be trained. This kid was complying by dropping to his knees and raising his hands as you can see in the body cam footage. This fool of an officer fires from the backseat between two deputies in the front THROUGH the window to kill Sean. This is not about Sean making a bad choice, this is about cops who feel empowered to snuff the life out of our brown and black citizens with impunity. Without regard for human life or even trying to use other deescalation tactic for which they are trained in these situations.

    Everyone makes bad choices. Example: That 17 yo racist who MURDERED those folks in Kenosha – did he make multiple bad choices? If so, why was he apprehended without incident and Sean wasn’t even given that chance? By some of y’alls logic here bad choices by young adults = death right? Please spot the difference here. Please open your eyes.

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