Another Family Grieves… RIP Antonio Santiago (13 months old)
On Thursday March 22, I was coming back from Court in Gainesville and got a message- “Had I heard?” I hadn’t. I was enveloped in another client’s fight, fighting State Farm to make sure they paid every penny of over $30,000 in costs they owed for making my client go to trial over his injuries. I hadn’t heard.
There had been another shooting. This time in Brunswick, a sleepy, nice little town just north of my home of Jacksonville. It was a 13-month-old- the same age as my son. Would I comment? No, I wouldn’t. I hadn’t heard and now just wanted to see my son.
The facts were horrifying. A mom was pushing her son in his stroller on the way to the post office. Two teens approached and asked for money. “And he kept asking, and I just said, ‘I don’t have it.’ And he said, ‘Do you want me to kill your baby?’ And I said, ‘No, don’t kill my baby!'” Sherry West, the mother of the infant, Antonio Santiago, said. The shooter fired multiple times, then walked around to the stroller and shot the baby in the face, killing the child- and killing the soul of his family, thrusting them into this crazy world where their lives where now be examined and written about (just like we are writing here) and cameras will be everywhere. We will all ask, “why,” and “how” just like always.
Pictured above is the baby’s father, Luis Santiago, who lives in a house across from the mother, Sherry West. Inset is a photo of beautiful and happy Antonio Santiago believed to have been taken at Christmas.
They have arrested two teens, who weren’t at school, who the mother subsequently identified. Family members said one of them wasn’t anywhere near the scene. A facebook page identified to be his, said, “Me in my (racial expletive) a turn your blo5k [sic] in to murder scene”. Media has also analyzed several posts that associated one of the teens with a group called “Moneyville” and possible gang-related activity. News outlets and social media is already abuzz making claims about race in dizzying directions. I refuse to go there. It’s not a productive conversation. It is our problem.
I represent Paul Sampleton, Jordan Davis, Tiphne Hollis, Kalil McCoy and other families who suddenly and tragically lost a child. I represent other families who were spared their children, but who still suffered the wrath of unnecessary violence, like Aria Jewett. We don’t talk race. We talk solutions.
“One Voice Project”
My office started what we call the “One Voice Project” because of these losses. We represent families of gun violence, pro bono, to make sure they receive support, in addition to legal advocacy, towards understanding what parents of gun violence victims go through, identifying those that take advantage of them and giving them broader access to the justice system. And then there are people selling t-shirts bearing the victims’ images at flea markets, those who seek to use them or their tragedy for their own political gain, criminal court dockets so full it is hard to get the attention you deserve, media intrusions when grieving should be the priority and much more invasive intrusion caused by the sudden and tragic flash of the spotlight. There is much more to what we do than pursue wrongful death damages.
We hope the “One Voice Project” adds strength to the voices of gun violence victims in legislatures and courthouses. We hope the “One Voice Project” is more of a public service project than anything, because for too long, parents have been doing it alone, with nowhere to turn. You won’t see many lawyers willing to write cease and desist letters preventing the use of these victims’ identities online or on shirts in flea markets or travel to every political official’s office who will give them 5 minutes- free. I invite any who want to join me to help. I say that to say this, these stories are important. These lost children are important. The lost children yet to come are important.
Police are asking anyone with information to call the Brunswick Police Silent Witness Line at 912-267-5516, as are we. And pray. Close your eyes pray and call your child over and tell them you love them. Turn off the violent video games, television and degrading music and read them a book or tell them a story about your family. Just try something different.
As Michael Skolnik so eloquently stated, we must remember these names and learn from their losses. We must do more. We must. We will stand together or die alone.
Peace and love to this family and all of these families. I fight because I have to. We all have to.