EXCLUSIVE: Family 'shocked' after SJ removes memorial for Safeway worker killed

A grieving family believes they have been robbed of a sacred space used to remember their lost loved one.

Lauren Martinez Image
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
EXCLUSIVE: Family 'shocked' as SJ removes Safeway worker's memorial
The family of Manny Huizar is "shocked" after San Jose removed the memorial dedicated to the Safeway worker who was killed during a robbery last year.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Ten months after a Safeway worker's death, a debate over his memorial feels like another loss to the family.

Last summer, 24-year-old Manny Huizar was working at the Safeway on Hamilton Avenue when he was shot during an early morning robbery.

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Friends and coworkers started a memorial outside his workplace, which became a sacred gathering place for his family.

They transformed and decorated the memorial for his birthday, Dia de Los Muertos, and other holidays.

After receiving a complaint, the city of San Jose's department of transportation cleaned and removed the memorial last Tuesday.

Colin Heyne, public information manager for the Department of Transportation, said the memorial had been up since June, and while investigating the complaint they saw it was attracting graffiti. Heyne said they first contacted the family months ago, but the phone number they had no longer worked on the day they received the complaint.

Guillermo Huizar, Manny's brother, found out the memorial was getting cleaned up through a text from his mother.

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Two men have been arrested in the shooting death of San Jose resident and Safeway employee, Manuel Huizar.

"Shocked, sad, first thing I thought of was my mom because I knew my mom was going to be heartbroken again," Huizar said.

Guillermo Huizar was at least glad someone from the city did get ahold of his mom in time to pick up memorabilia.

"One of the employees from the city actually went into the Safeway, grabbed my mom's phone number, let her know what was going on and actually took the stuff to my mom's house," Huizar said.

But Huizar said the news hit him hard.

"It was the last place he was there, it's something special," Huizar said.

He wishes it could have been up for longer.

"I totally understand it's the city's place, I totally respect that but I mean if you left it for 10 months you know a year is two," Huizar said.

Lizeth Ledezma walked by the memorial often.

"You can feel that people cared about the person," Ledezma said.

She feels the city should be focused on other things.

"People - especially the city should - they have to be more focused about the safety versus a random complaint," Ledezma said.

John Divittorio lives across the street. He said the memorial grew overtime and fluctuated. He said it would become more populous during the holidays. Divittorio said at times there was music and food.

"It's kind of sad to hear that someone complained about it. I live right across the street and it has never bothered me. I walk across the street to the Safeway and I'll walk down the sidewalk and it was never obstructing anything," Divittorio said.

This is part of the city's statement:

"There is no formal arrangement for keeping a shrine or memorial up - by the strictest technical definition, they are not allowed in the public right of way. But removing them is not a top priority for the City and this one had not previously been complained about. We understand families' desire to have a place to grieve and remember their loved ones. However, if they are impeding the public right of way, growing in size, generating complaints, or attracting graffiti or gang activity, we will follow the removal policy and clear them."

Guillermo Huizar hopes to work with the city to think of a smaller and more permanent way to memorialize his brother.

"I would love to find a way to maybe get a permission from the city, you know, to have something even small," Huizar said.

Marisela Cornejo, Manny's mother, said one of the reasons she kept the memorial up was for the love and appreciation she received from the community.

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