Coastal Voices: Life, death, celebration


It is the second Saturday in June. Ron Phillips has just struck his chuck wagon iron, announcing the opening of the 2011 Farmer's Market. Old friends and acquaintances set up their spaces, dispensing everything from jewelry, pastries, children's toys and plants to farm goods and civic organization charity fundraising.

As billed, it's a market, but also much more. Like baseball, it mirrors life itself, coming in the spring and departing with the onset of winter. It is not lost on you that the assorted wares and offerings are home-grown and hand-made. Its existence, a testament to a thing called community.

Tuesday morning last week, our community was torn with the news of 14-year-old Cecelia Mortensen and her mother's shootings. A beautiful and loving child to the people that knew her and saw her daily running to the bus or playing with neighborhood pets, here in her new home of Crescent City. Until a crazed man followed her to our town and took her life.

Later, I was at Sutter Coast Hospital as Cecilia's assailant was

wheeled in on a gurney, a self-inflicted bullet wound in his right

temple, announcing the short time he had left on Earth. The ER trauma

team worked feverishly to resuscitate him, no evidence of their

knowledge of the monstrous acts he had earlier that day committed

apparent in their efforts - only a devotion and dedication to an oath

they had once taken as healers, which was nothing less than honor-bound

and heroic, which raw sentiment would not subjugate.

Hours later, Jerry Wayne Steele took his last breath. As I walked

down the hall, I thanked God for saving the state and my office the duty

of dispatching him at some distant time. Without apology, it became

easy to celebrate his departure from this world.

As I stepped closer to Cecilia's door in the Intensive Care Unit, I

thought of that beautiful, young girl and the joy she had brought to so

many in her brief life. I thought of the dedication and pride she must

have possessed in earning a black belt in taekwondo by age 13. I thought

of the gift of life her mortal remains would bring to others.

I realized that a mere moment spent hating the memory of her killer

was a moment we could not spend celebrating the life of Cecilia

Mortensen or life itself. And as such, we refuse to allow his insanity

to diminish our humanity.

I entered Cecilia's room and looked upon the face of this beautiful

child and thought of Atticus' schooling of Scout: "Shoot all the

bluejays you want if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a


For four days, I watched with pride as Sutter Coast, Victim Witness

and my hometown did all it could to lessen the burden for Cecilia and

her mother's tragedy, culminating Friday evening with a candlelight

service organized by families who saw Cecilia's light in their own

children's faces.

Not the death of evil, but rather this thing called life and the

memory of a little girl named Cecilia who came to our town for only a

short time - that is what we shall celebrate.

It is one week later, the third Saturday in June and Ron Phillips

has just struck his chuck wagon iron, opening the second Farmer's Market

of the season. A lot has happened in the past week. Much to bury and

forget - far more to remember and celebrate.

I walk down the row of vendors and friends, taking in their

home-made and home-grown offerings. I hear the easy banter and laughter

and smiles of the people of my community. And somewhere, I hear

Atticus telling Scout on the last page about people being nice: "Most

people are, Scout... ."

Jon Alexander is district attorney of Del Norte County.

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