Father of Luis Garcia: If police had been at East High, ‘maybe my son would still be here with us’

a man in a blue jacket and red cap wipes his eye while talking at a microphone next to a woman in a white suit.
Santos Garcia, father of Luis Garcia, who was fatally shot outside Denver’s East High School, wipes away a tear during a press conference Friday. (Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat)

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The family of Luis Garcia returned Friday to the City Park Esplanade, a paved road that runs in front of Denver’s East High School and loops into the park, for the first time since the 16-year-old was fatally shot there in February.

They pointed out the presence of Denver police at the school — a security measure that was absent when Luis was shot while sitting in his car, parked on the Esplanade. Denver police officers didn’t return to East until a month and a half later, after another shooting in which an East student shot and injured two deans inside the school.

“All the adults in charge that are supposed to make school safe failed my brother,” Luis’ 20-year-old sister Jovana Garcia said at a press conference with the family’s attorney Friday. 

“No type of security or protection. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that weeks after my brother passed, there was an incident where two other adults were injured. Injured, not dead. And then they wanted change. Was Luis’ life not enough?”

The family has given Denver Public Schools notice that it plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the district, said attorney Matthew Barringer. The notice also names the school board, which voted in 2020 to remove police officers from Denver schools.

Luis Garcia, right in the red and white jersey, played on the East High School soccer team. (Courtesy of Reid Neureiter)

The murder of Luis, a talented soccer player whose father described him as “the happiness of our home,” remains unsolved without an arrest. Police have said it appeared the gunshots that hit Luis were fired from another car.

Luis’ father, Santos Garcia, said that if police had been inside East in February, with their patrol cars parked out front, “I think maybe my son would still be here with us today.”

When the family asked why there was no security at the school, Garcia said the police told them that the school board didn’t want officers arresting students or ticketing for things like drugs. 

“They are taking care of those kids, but who is taking care of our kids?” Garcia said. “The kids that go to school, that they work, that they actually do sports. The good kids. 

“Who takes care of them?”

In removing police from schools, the board cited a desire to disrupt the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately affects students of color. Black students were more likely than white students to be ticketed and arrested in Denver schools.

After the two deans were shot in March, the school board temporarily suspended its ban on police. East High and 12 other campuses have school resource officers through the end of the school year, and the board is expected to discuss soon whether to permanently lift the ban.

Garcia said his family would like to see the extra security remain.

“We don’t want 100, 200 policemen,” he said, “but we want some type of security so the students feel safe. We don’t want them to fear. We just want them to feel safe.”

Friday’s press conference was the latest in a series of weekly events hosted by Parents - Safety Advocacy Group, a group that formed in the wake of the March shooting. It was also the first time that many of Luis’ family members spoke publicly about his death.

Omar Bobadilla, 17-year-old cousin of Luis Garcia, speaks to the media Friday. (Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat)

Several family members described Feb. 13, the day Luis was shot. Luis’ father recalled his last conversation with him that morning, in which he told his son to have a wonderful day. 

Cousin Omar Bobadilla, 17, remembered speaking with Luis 20 minutes before he was shot. It was Omar’s birthday, and they were making plans to hang out later.

Luis’ sister Jovana recalled how DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero, who she called “a stranger to us,” came to the hospital and asked to see her brother. 

“The entitlement he had to even ask, when not even his siblings were allowed to see him,” she said. “That was the last time I personally saw him show up for my brother.”

Luis’ 19-year-old brother, also named Santos Garcia, said he never wants another family to experience what his family has. “You feel lost,” he said. “You feel a hole. And I just want a change in who makes the decisions and for people to take accountability.”

Correction: A previous version of this story listed the wrong age for Luis’ brother Santos.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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