Woman’s family and friends honor her memory in candlelight vigil
■ Kyle Selby / Reporter
Friends, family, classmates, and coworkers of Lauren Lopez shared warm embraces and wiped each others’ tears at a heartfelt candlelight vigil Saturday night at Team Quest Athletic Center in San Jacinto.
“Justice for Lauren,” was the mantram everybody was murmuring, as they lit up the gym’s parking lot with handheld candles in Lopez’ memory. A worship team played songs over the sounds of the weeping crowd of several hundred.
“Our main focus is that we have closure with the family,” Lopez’s father, Carlos, announced. “That way we can heal, and the other victim’s family can heal as well.”
Car found in a ditch
19-year-old Lopez and 22-year-old Patrick Powell Jr. were found deceased Wednesday, Jan. 3, at around 11:47 a.m. near the intersection of Ramona Expressway and N. Warren Road, according to sheriff’s deputies. They were found shot to death in Lopez’ Chevy Hatchback — the rear window riddled with bullet holes — lying in a ditch.
According to a Riverside County Sheriff’s press release, both victims received medical aid on scene, and were transported to a local hospital, but succumbed to their injuries.
Lopez’ family recognized their daughter’s car on the news Wednesday. According to Powell’s younger sister, Aujaye, Powell was on his way to buy a car when he got into the car with Lopez. “We know that for a fact,” she said.
Since Lopez had been found, her family have revisited the site to pay their respects, and check for nearby cameras that may have caught anything substantial. No luck.
“I am angry and my heart is in pieces!” Lopez’s sister, Renae Castillo, wrote on Facebook. “At this time, we have no leads or answers.”
According to witness statements, the suspect was a man.
Lopez, hard-working woman with dreams
Corey Grant, owner of Team Quest, stood before the growing crowd and shared a few words about Lopez’ aspirations as a mixed martial artist.
“Lauren was a focused, very disciplined young lady,” Grant described. “She was picking everybody’s brain to better herself on a daily basis. I’ve been very proud of her, and we had a very long conversation last Thursday night about her goals and what she wanted to do in life.”
They spoke about an upcoming kickboxing event and Lopez’s education. She told Grant that she was considering pursuing an education in either physical therapy or sports medicine.
Lopez had been training in MMA for about seven years and had been kickboxing competitively for three. At Team Quest, her colleagues say she excelled tremendously, having also worked her way up to an instructor position about a year and a half ago. According to her family, she planned to move to New York to further pursue her MMA career. But fighting wasn’t her only hobby.
“We call her ‘L-Boogie,’ because whenever she’s teaching in this facility, she’s always got the music blaring,” said Grant, who had caught Lopez furtively dancing in between training sessions on multiple occasions. “That was just who she was.” Faces in the crowd collectively smiled, only for a brief moment.
Fellow instructor Keri Gawne could hardly voice her words between sobs when she was called up to speak.
“When I met Lauren, she was thirteen. And from day one you just…you just know she was so special. We all learned from her,” Gawne said.. She told the crowd how impressed visitors always were of Lopez’s talent. “So, Lauren, I promise you we’re all going to keep dancing in this gym for you…L-Boogie…we love you.”
Co-founder of the original Team Quest facility in Portland, and former UFC World Champion, Randy Couture left a video message for Grant, which was also played during the vigil.
“Her support of mixed martial arts and kickboxing should be an inspiration for everybody,” said Couture. “It’s unfortunate that things have gone down, but I think we need to come together and fight for justice for Lauren Lopez.”
When Lopez wasn’t sharpening her skills as a fighter, she worked part-time at The Camelot Senior Living facility in Hemet and also at Home Depot. She was also enrolled as a student at Mt. San Jacinto College.
Families in distress
“This is the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” Andrea Hill, Powell’s mother told CBS Los Angeles News. “If there’s anyone out there that has a heart, and that has a kid, or grandkids — I’m a mother, I know there are mothers and fathers out there — if they could just come forward and say something, anything.”
Aujaye Powell, Patrick’s younger sister, told The Valley Chronicle that her brother left behind three young children; a one-year-old girl and two boys, one six-months and a two-year-old.
“My brother was a loving father and most of his time he worked on cars and made music,” she said. She also disclosed that skateboarding was his passion, and he used to skate semi-pro when he lived in Texas, but also rode scooters and bicycles. “He was so goofy, always happy, and energetic.”
Patrick Powell Jr.’s birthday was Dec. 2, and he was killed on Dec. 3.
“My brother isn’t a violent person and everybody that actually knows him knows that’s how he was,” said Aujaye Powell. “He is just as innocent [as Lauren].”
According to Aujaye, Lopez and her brother had a familial connection. Lopez’ cousin is the mother of one of Powell’s three children.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Grant asked the guests to leave anything they had planned to place at the site where the victims were found, with Team Quest.
“To avoid any conflict out that way, we’re asking that you bring these things here,” said Grant. “It’s going to be a safer area, and a lot easier access to everybody.”
San Jacinto Mayor Pro Team Russ Utz announced that they would be naming the memorial, “Hope for an Answer,” in closing. “Encourage anyone you know, who may have heard something, who thinks they heard somebody bragging, or whatever,” urged Utz. “Go ahead, there’s no such thing as a bad tip.”
The Lopez family is currently offering a reward of $2,500 for any tips regarding information linked to the suspect who killed Lopez and Powell.
The Riverside Sheriff’s Department-Central Homicide Unit and San Jacinto Station Investigators have assumed the investigation. Investigators are requesting the public’s assistance with any information regarding the shootings. If you were travelling in the area of Ramona Expressway and Warren Road, and saw anything possibly related to this incident, you are encouraged to call Investigator Gomez of the Sheriff’s Central Homicide Unit at 760-393-3527.