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The hundreds who filled every available square foot of space inside the Santa Maria Country Club on Thursday may not have known each other but had one thing in common that drew them together. They all knew Anthony "Tony" San Juan Jr., and were emotionally affected by his sudden, unexpected death. 

Tony's life was cut short March 4, when he was shot and killed outside Elmer's bar in Orcutt at 1:30 a.m. Jonathan David Highley and his wife, Mayra Perez, were arrested and booked into custody in connection to the homicide after county sheriff's deputies located the couple leaving their home with their children later that same morning. 

Since the tragedy, the community has rallied behind the San Juans, showing their outpouring of love and support. The family's GoFundMe page has reached nearly $100,000 in less than three weeks, far surpassing the goal of $20,000. 

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, attendees of the Celebration of Life shared memories, recounted their experiences, bid their final farewells and stored away the times they had with Tony forever. 

All were affected by the March 4 tragedy, and knew him at some level -- through his kids, his wife, Sara, work or as schoolmates. 

A long line stretched far past the entrance of the club full of people patiently waiting to sign his guestbook, giving their best regards and condolences to the family. 

However, Tony's family members also reminded attendees that while it was a time to grieve, it also was a time to celebrate. The memorial was far from somber, as people shed their tears but, also, laughed through them when they recalled his sense of humor. 

Tony's brother-in-law, Michael Newton, was the first to address the large crowd gathered at the club. 

"We're so grateful for everyone who's come to share and remember Tony today," he began. "We've come today to honor Tony as a father, husband, son, friend, colleague and athlete. We come together today, remembering Tony for his example on how we should live our lives as parents, spouses, children, friends and co-workers." 

He continued: "Through all of this, our family has been deeply encouraged, strengthened, calmed and comforted by the immense outpouring of support from all of you. Tony left us much too soon, but having each of you here today to celebrate his life is important to his family, and to all the members of this great community." 

Tony's wife, Sara San Juan, also thanked the community for its support since her husband's death. 

"Never did I imagine that I'd be speaking about Tony in these circumstances," she said, crying. "This is the final party we'll be throwing for our beautiful husband, so I have to take this opportunity for all of us to remember him." 

"He was my best friend, my constant companion for 17 years; we leaned on one another for everything," she continued. "Tony's love for his children were beyond words -- our son, Noah, had the privilege of learning from his example as a father, husband and friend.

"Our daughter, Shiloh, surprised and delighted Tony every day," she reminisced. "There wasn't a thing he wouldn't do to make her happy. Even up till his last day with us, he gently comforted her during her process of losing her first tooth."

The audience responded to Sara and other speakers, crying together, laughing together and echoing their oohs and aahs at each heartfelt memory.

While the road ahead will be long and difficult, Sara said, the family and community will continue to hold Tony in their hearts and cherish their time together. 

"This is the day the Lord has created," said Tony's father, Anthony San Juan. "I want us to remember that this is a day to celebrate his life, and we thank all of you from the bottom of our hearts. The San Juan family loves you all." 

John Patino, who worked with Tony at Crop Production Services, remembered him as a loyal colleague, hard worker, but also a family man that never put his career ahead of his wife and two children. 

"Show me a man that holds his wife and kids first, and I'll show you a successful man," Patino said. "We're always on the clock, but he never let his family suffer from that."

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Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210


Courts/Public Safety Reporter