Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged and candles were lit Sunday, Dec. 3, as hundreds of people gathered at a Murrieta area church to remember the life of a 19-year-old resident who was killed in a stabbing outside a Temecula Wal-Mart several days earlier.
The gathering was held at The Way Family Church on Sky Canyon Drive, where Kevin Rodriguez had been an active member in the church’s youth group for the past 10 months.
Fellow churchgoers and friends remembered Rodriguez as being deeply passionate about his faith and a lover of adventure, known for flipping off objects and cliff diving.
Kayla Olson, 17, of Murrieta said she first started attending the church about five months ago and said Rodriguez was the first person to talk to her and make her feel welcomed.
“He made everybody feel like family,” she said. “He was very, very on fire about God’s word.”
Dana Gill, 17, of Oceanside and Noah Carrillo, 16, of Escondido were also among the teens who showed up to remember Rodriguez.
They recalled various cliff jumping adventures they shared with him at locations such as Table Rock in Laguna Beach and said Rodriguez was supportive of their burgeoning passion.
“He was always just willing to help us out, whether it be recording, taking pictures or just hanging out,” Carrillo said.
Christina Solis of Murrieta was in tears as she described Rodriguez, who she said she loved like a son.
“He was amazing,” Solis, whose son Zay was close friends with Rodriguez, said. “He was fun to be around. He was always laughing, he was always happy. He was a loving person, and we’ll miss him.”
Many of those in attendance were wearing checkerboard Vans slip-on shoes, Rodriguez’s favorite kind of shoe, in a show of solidarity.
After people arrived and exchanged hugs and warm greetings, they went into a separate room where a worship service and a candlelight vigil were held.
A screen in the back of the room showed pictures of Rodriguez’s life – his time in high school, his outdoor adventures and time spent with girlfriend Jensen Carleton.
Everyone from family members to fairly recent friends shared their memories of the teen, stepping on stage before the group of about 200 people packed into nearly every seat available.
During the ceremony, a family friend read a letter written by Carleton.
“The love we had here on earth was so much more than I could ever ask for,” part of the letter said. “I’m so blessed to know you, to really know you. I was so blessed to fall asleep in your arms and to wake up with you right by my side. I was so blessed to feel all the happiness that you brought me in such a short amount of time.”
The Rev. Matthew Pollock said he had grown extremely fond of the young man in the 10 months that he had gotten to know him.
He said the two would frequently grab lunch, and when he received a call from Carleton Wednesday, he had been hoping that it was a lunch invitation from Rodriguez. Instead, it was terrible news.
“To most of us, Kevin was a cherished and treasured, sincere and genuine, friend – family,” Pollock said. “No doubt, unequivocally, beyond any question, Kevin lived and exemplified a life well-lived. He lived a life all in. He lived a life fearless. He lived a life, as we say around here, with everything.”
Toward the end of the event, guests lit candles and had a moment of silence in the teen’s memory before an offering was taken up to give to his family.
Rodriguez was killed on the afternoon of Nov. 29 in a dispute outside the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 32225 Temecula Parkway.
Sheriff’s officials have said the dispute started outside the parking lot and continued there. Deputies found Rodriguez with injuries that appeared to be stabbing-related. He died at an area hospital not long after he was found.
Family members told KTLA news that Rodriguez raised his hands up as if to say, “What’s wrong with you?” when the driver of another vehicle almost hit his car and that when he got out of the car to get groceries, the other driver grabbed him by the throat and stabbed him.
The suspect, James Beckham Fortney, 40, was arrested on suspicion of voluntary manslaughter and was booked into the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center.
Fortney’s bail was initially set at $100,000 before being listed at $80,000. He was released the same day as his booking.
Fortney had not been charged in connection with the incident as of press time.