As a community activist dealing with the Filipino American youth for more than 30 years, Ben Menor has attended the funerals of many young Filipino Americans who died from suicide, homicide, disease or accidents. But no funeral in the past could match the emotionally-charged sight he witnessed on Wednesday, September 19, in Sacramento, California: a single coffin holding a 21-year old father and his 8-month old infant son.
It was only a few days before, on September 14, that young athletic Sean Paul Aquitania, Sr. buckled his son, Sean Jr., in a car seat and drove to visit a friend in southeast Sacramento county. When he got to the house, Sean Paul parked his car in front and left his son in the car as he would be away for only a few seconds. He walked to the door and pressed the doorbell. When the door was opened by two men, two other men quickly ran up the house and forced their way inside in what police believe was a drug-related home invasion robbery.
A scuffle occurred and Sean Paul was shot and killed by the intruders. As the killers fled the house, they saw Sean Paul’s parked car with the baby in the car seat. One of the men opened the car door and shot Sean Jr. in the head, killing him instantly with the same gun that had been used to kill his father.
Police authorities who arrived at the scene interviewed the two residents of the house who witnessed the murder of Sean Paul. They were not cooperative, the police said, as they did not provide the police with information about the gunmen other than their description as two young males, one African American wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and the other a Latino wearing a green shirt and a green Oakland A’s cap.
Before that fateful day, Sean Paul had been working at the local Cash & Carry store, but wanted a better life for his son and his fiancée, his son’s mother, 19-year old Monique De La Cruz. He was studying for his GED (a high school equivalent diploma) so that he could go to college and become a correctional officer.
Friends recalled the time when Sean Paul was 14 and his mother enrolled him in a boxing class offered by the Shotgun Boxing Crew in his Elk Grove neighborhood. According to his friend and trainer, Daniel Palpalatoc, Sean showed an early talent for boxing. When he turned 17, Sean had become proficient enough to participate in a Junior Olympic boxing tournament and win a bronze medal. “He was somebody,” Boxing Crew owner Benito Garcia said.
At a Sacramento press conference held on September 18, the mothers of Sean Sr. and Sean Jr. held back their tears as they spoke of Sean Paul’s love for and total devotion to Sean Jr. Sarah Aquitania, mother of Sean Paul, pleaded for anyone with information about the identity of the killers to call the police with the information. "Come forward. I beg you," she said. Please call the Sheriff's Department at (916) 874-5115 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.
Monique Dela Cruz spoke of her child with tears streaking down her face. "The smile on my baby's face was so precious. To think that someone could ..." She was overwhelmed with emotion that she could not finish her sentence.
At the Wednesday night funeral service, about 300 relatives, friends and leaders of the Filipino community came to pay their respects. They could only see the face of Sean Paul Sr. who was dressed in a burgundy red shirt. They could not view the face of Sean Jr. which was covered with a baseball cap.
Friends and relatives spoke at the funeral service about the deep love between Monique and Sean Paul. Monique’s aunt, Louise De La Cruz, shared her knowledge of their close relationship:
"They were the happiest couple I know. These two never fought, never squabbled and never disrespected each other. What they did do was laugh an awful lot. They -- maturely in their young years -- had an unwavering devotion to one another and somehow knew the key to life: 'As long as we have each other, we can be happy.' And they were."
The following morning, more than 700 people attended the funeral Mass at St. Rose Catholic Church, with hundreds joining the procession to St. Mary's Cemetery for the burial. After the funeral Thursday, family members thanked everyone for their outpouring of support and repeated their plea for people to provide information that would lead to the arrest of the killers.
In the meantime, family members have set up a Sean Aquitania Jr. Memorial Fund, c/o Bank of America, 940 Florin Road, Sacramento, CA 95831. Please contribute to support this devastated family.
Members of the Northern California Regional Chapter of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) plan to discuss the Aquitania tragedy and the senseless deaths of young Fil-Ams at the NaFFAA Region 8 Conference set for November 10 at the Bayanihan Community Center on Mission Street in San Francisco. For more information about attending this conference, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.