Community members in mourning assembled Tuesday evening in Old Town Orcutt to grieve for, but also celebrate, the life of Anthony “Tony” San Juan, the victim of a shooting at Elmer's bar Saturday.
A social media initiative took off less than 24 hours before Tuesday's candlelight vigil, drawing more than 200 people to the corners of Clark Avenue and California Boulevard.
Several members of San Juan’s family were in attendance, including his mother and father, grandparents, siblings and best friend. His wife, Sara, and two children were not.
“I’m just amazed by the outpouring of love in this community that came together for my son,” said Anthony San Juan, Tony's father. “I’m astounded by what the community has done and what they’re doing tonight.”
During the vigil, San Juan's best friend, David Zavala, shared with the crowd about his friend's character.
“Tony was my best friend since we were 13 years old,” Zavala said, noting that the night San Juan was killed they had been together at Far Western Tavern and Rooney’s Irish Pub, just up Clark Street from the fatal shooting at Elmer’s bar.
Zavala explained that earlier in the evening when they were at Rooney’s, they both had exchanged hugs and “I love you's.”
When they left Far Western Tavern, there was an elderly couple sitting together, and Tony commented to them that they looked very happy. Upon finding out that it was the couple’s anniversary, Tony bought them a bottle of wine in celebration, just hours before his death, Zavala recounted.
“Sunday night I was in bed myself,” Zavala said. “We had talked about God that night at Far Western. I was having a dream, and Tony was talking to me, and I looked up and saw the face of God. I think it was a sign that God was telling me he’s OK.”
“Tony was just a fun-loving guy,” Zavala said. "He gave a lot to his friends and family, and I hope we all remember the good times.”
After the crowd had converged at 6:30 p.m., Father Ed Jalbert of St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Orcutt led the crowd in song on a brief walk to the Era Polly Real Estate parking lot, where he delivered a prayer for San Juan, his family and the community.
“Father, we come before you this night with our hearts filled with sadness, and that darkness of despair and our powerlessness,” Jalbert prayed. “We lift our hearts to you in prayer for Tony, for his eternal happiness in your presence, that you open the gates of paradise, and you come to welcome him and embrace him in your arms of love.”
“He is a good and gentle soul, a source of light and brightness in our lives, taken from us, and so we are sad and our hearts grieve,” Jalbert prayed, asking for consolation and comfort to be given to Tony's wife and children.
Jalbert taught San Juan when he attended St. Joseph High School and said his character, optimism and positive attitude was evidenced by the crowd, gathered in San Juan's honor.
During his senior year, San Juan served as a youth minister, helping during Mass and activities.
“He was always upbeat, optimistic, and his smile could light up a room,” Jalbert said. “He was one of those people whose personality turned the ordinary into a celebration.”
Jalbert asked the community to take the time between Tuesday’s vigil and whenever a reception might take place for San Juan to think of a good memory or story they shared with Tony and to write it down on a piece of paper or card.
The encouragement came on behalf of San Juan’s children, who Jalbert said will grow up without their father but would cherish the written memories for the rest of their lives.
Many people who attended the vigil didn’t know Tony personally but said the turnout was indicative of the type of community Orcutt is.
“I met Tony once,” said Lisa Thomas, of Orcutt. “He was so genuine, kind and full of life. The encounter just stuck in my head. My heart goes out to his family. I couldn’t imagine what I would do if it was my husband, my son or dad.”
Orcutt resident Brittany Kaylor added, “It’s amazing how a community can come together like this.”
All of the proceeds from various Orcutt businesses before, during and after the vigil Tuesday were put toward the San Juan family, and included Coffee a la Cart, CORE Winery, Jack's in Old Orcutt and Rooney's Irish Pub.