“Mother on a Mission” is just getting started

Photo by Kyle Selby/The Valley Chronicle
Corinna Moreno-Ramirez (left) and Belinda Lane (right), both mothers who lost their children to gun violence, arrive early to the Hemet City Council chambers to prepare their speeches.

■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter

Two weeks ago, Corinna Moreno-Ramirez received the phone call she had been waiting five months for. Two young men were arrested on charges of the attempted murder of her son, 25-year-old Daniel Ramirez, who was killed in a drive-by shooting last November. Manuel Oláez, 23, and Moses Oláez, 20 were arrested on April 6 by Hemet Police Investigations Bureau.
Their arraignment was originally scheduled April 11 in Superior Court of Riverside County at the Banning Justice Center, but the case was continued to April 25. As of press time, according to court officials, a felony settlement conference is scheduled for May 19 in Department B101 of the Banning Justice Center, case No. BAF1700381.
A felony settlement conference occurs when the prosecuting and defense attorneys meet in the judge’s chambers to determine whether a plea deal can be struck in order to avoid trial. If the plea is approved, sentencing is imposed. If a plea agreement cannot be reached, a date for trial is set.
While the wheels of justice may have finally begun to turn for Daniel, Moreno-Ramirez does not plan to back down anytime soon. Since November, she has utilized her spotlight position as a grieving mother to demand action from the city of Hemet, pleading for answers in her son’s stalled homicide investigation and demanding more boots on the streets and more help for investigators. Moreno-Ramirez made countless visits to the police station and the City Council meetings before Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown announced a $10,000 reward for crime tips regarding Daniel’s case, and certain similar cases. A week later, the arrests were made.
In the past five months, Moreno-Ramirez has been dubbed as the “Mother on a Mission.” Now, she is working hard to recruit new members to join her cause, and to gain recognition for Daniel and other victims lost to street violence.

“Homicide Families Seeking Justice” helps families cope
Last week, Moreno-Ramirez held a meeting at her house for “Homicide Families Seeking Justice,” a social media support group that she founded after her son’s murder. The group bounced ideas around their circle, and shared their stories that brought them together in the first place.
In attendance was Belinda Lane, mother of 24-year-old Crystal Theobald, an innocent Riverside woman who was slain in 2006 in a gang-related shooting. The last suspect of a group of eight defendants was finally caught last year, and faces one charge of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder, two counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle, one count of gang activity and a special-circumstance allegation of committing murder for the benefit of a criminal street gang. Lane revealed that only last year did she find it in herself to forgive the group of people that caused her to experience more hate than she ever thought she could feel.
“It’s pure agony,” Lane reflected during the meeting. “There’s no other hell – life is going to be before that moment, and after, for the rest of your days…but now, I’m going to tell you to keep your eyes open, because along the way, there’s going to be blessings. You [Corinna,] are a blessing.”
Unlike Moreno-Ramirez, who didn’t receive notification of her son’s death for five days, Lane was with her daughter when she was shot. She, her daughter Crystal, her son Justin, and Crystal’s boyfriend, Juan Patlan, were ambushed 11 years ago in Riverside by a group of men who appeared to be gang affiliated. The men opened fire and Patlan was wounded; Lane and her son escaped uninjured, and Crystal was shot in the back of the head. She died two days later.
Now living in Hemet, Lane began following Moreno-Ramirez’ crusade after she noticed her rising presence on social media – both Hemet and out-of-town residents resonated with the online and newspaper accounts of Moreno-Ramirez’ speeches before the City Council, begging city officials to assist in the investigations of her son and others who suffered similar fates.
“In just these five months, I’ve fallen apart,” admitted Moreno-Ramirez. But with her newfound relief, she still isn’t out of the woods yet.
Her remaining son, Miguel Moreno, is in the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Carson, Colorado, where just last week the biggest convoy operation since World War II rolled out more than 1,200 vehicles. The 143-mile convoy trek to the Piñon Canyon training area is intended to help the brigade train for wartime. Corinna will not hear from Miguel for weeks, and after having just lost one son to violence, is fearful to relive an all too-familiar case of déjà vu.
“I just keep praying that he’s going to be OK,” she said.

She hopes to establish a nonprofit organization one day, and has even shown interest in a vacant property in town that she would like to convert into a youth center by day and a homeless shelter by night.”

Daniel’s gravesite vandalized
Moreno-Ramirez often visits the San Jacinto Cemetery where Daniel is buried and she decorates his grave according to the holidays. She held a special event over Easter weekend, where she invited family, friends and the community to pay their respects and congregate, even organizing an Easter egg hunt for the kids. But in the days since, other visitors have paid their “respects” in a much less respectful way.
“It got tagged up,” Moreno-Ramirez said. The people who work there told her that “outside the cemetery, the city will come and clean, but on the inside, it’s up to us.”
So she arrived to the cemetery early the next day, and brought bottles of nail polish remover and tried her best to scrub away the graffiti that was scrawled near Daniel’s grave, which addressed him by his nickname.
When the cemetery staff saw her scrubbing, they told her she was the first mom who tried to come and clean up. The cemetery isn’t the only place she’s seen her son’s name tagged around the city either; she’s seen his nickname tagged across business buildings, street poles and gas stations as well.
“It’s disappointing, and it’s embarrassing,” she said of the tagging she is seeing. “If Hemet’s trying to stop violence and stop crime, then stick by your word. Help some of these owners clean up that mess right there.”
Corinna has also met some unexpected confidants along the way.
“I carry a broom in my car, because I go through there all the time – where my son died,” she said. “He has a cross, a basket and all that. When I get there and I see diapers and everything just thrown into the aqueduct, I sweep it, and I’ll sweep it a distance, because I don’t want garbage on top of where my son died.”

Inspiration takes hold
Once, a homeless man who had seen her frequent the area before approached her, and he promised that he would keep the area clean so long as she brought him a sandwich every now and then. Skeptical at first, she left the man with some change, and went back home. The next time she visited the site, she was surprised to find that the man had kept his word.
“Since I’ve been going through [his area], it’s clean,” she said.
This inspired Moreno-Ramirez to take her cause one step further. She hopes to establish a nonprofit organization one day, and has even shown interest in a vacant property in town that she would like to convert into a youth center by day and a homeless shelter by night. All participants would be drug tested first, of course.
“You test dirty, [you’re] out of here,” she explained. She wants to put the willing panhandlers to work; cleaning up around town for eight hours a day, and in exchange, they have a place to rest their heads at night. She figures that if she houses people trying to get back on the right track, the police can focus on the criminal transients.
“Pay them half the amount, and give them a place to do their thing. It helps out the community, keeps the parks clean, and it keeps the tagging off the walls.”
In order for her to achieve these goals, Corinna is asking for support from the community. Currently, her objective is to get a banner hung across Florida Avenue, featuring the faces of each of the many homicide victims who lost their lives in the city of Hemet. She believes that if more people are willing to come forward and share their stories, the community will be the better for it.
“I want to keep Daniel’s memory alive,” said Corinna. “If we can get more people on board, then we can make it happen.”

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