‘We have suffered a loss, and we suffer together’

Hundreds of residents, officials gather to support family of crash victims during vigil.


Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune

A vigil was held Thursday, Nov. 7 at Los Cerritos Park for the Awaida Family, who died after being struck by a drunk driver. Joseph Awaida, 30, died shortly after being struck by a vehicle, his son Omar Awaida, 3, died Saturday, Nov. 2, and Raihan Dakhil, 32, the mother, died Sunday, Nov. 3 after being taken off of life support.

Exactly one week after an alleged drunk-driving incident in the Los Cerritos neighborhood claimed the lives of a young family of three, hundreds of people gathered at the site of the tragedy to remember the father, mother and their 3-year-old boy during a candlelight vigil.

On the night of Thursday, Nov. 7, residents, elected officials, and friends and family members of the deceased congregated in Los Cerritos Park to light candles and share memories and words of comfort.

[See photos from this vigil: In Photos: Community comes together to mourn Awaida family killed in fatal collision on Halloween night]

Joseph Awaida, 30, Raihan Dakhil, 32, and their son Omar Awaida, 3, were killed after 20-year-old Carlo Navarro, who was driving on Country Club Drive near Los Cerritos Park, failed to turn and instead sped onto the sidewalk and struck the family on Oct. 31, according to police.

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
Vera Awaida, mother of Joseph Awaida, and two other family members speak during a Nov. 7 candlelight vigil at Los Cerritos Park.

At the vigil, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia encouraged attendees to focus positive energy into supporting the families of those who perished.

“I think it’s important […] that all of the love that you have inside and all of the passion that you have and love you have for this family, that you really think about them and that you put all of your positive energy into them,” Garcia said. “This is a Long Beach family that has gone through an incredible tragedy this last week. I want to say, as your mayor […] that I’m incredibly proud of all of you for being here and the way you’ve come together as a neighborhood and as a greater city to stand with and behind this family.”

He added that “the city is 100-percent behind this family.”

“We will do everything that we can, within our power, to ensure that this family is taken care of, that we honor these three amazing lives, not just here, but in ways across the city and in the things that they loved to do and gave so much to,” he said. “I also just want to say that it’s been a very tragic week, but it’s also been a week that, I think, has shown a lot of love, and I see that with everyone here tonight.”

Seventh District Councilmember Roberto Uranga said that, when he heard the news of the incident the following morning, he was moved because he identified with the loss.

“I was shaken, I was sad, because I’m a son of immigrants, I’m a father, I’m a husband and a grandfather,” Uranga said. “That loss hit me hard because nobody– nobody– wants to lose a member of a family, and no mother and no father wants to bury his or her child before their time. So, my heart is saddened, it’s broken, and I’m so happy […] to see you all here to provide comfort, not only to the family, but to all of Long Beach, because we have suffered a loss, and we suffer together.”

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
Tarek Mohamed, Long Beach Islamic Center imam, leads a prayer during the Nov. 7 vigil for the Awaida Family.

Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin said each person grieves in his or her own way, but that night, residents were lifting each other up together as a community.

“When something life-transforming happens to us, it’s ordinary for words to fail us, yet it’s impossible to remain mute, so I offer these words of outreach as we gather here together,” he said. “This candlelight vigil, by its own definition, and by our intention, is a remembrance of a family tragically taken from us. Our candles are lit, bright and flaming, yet small and all too extinguishable, [and] will burn this autumn evening, reminding us of the goodness this family represented in our community. There is sadness and grief in the loss we feel. The randomness of the loss of a family is unsettling. For many of us, perhaps most of us, there is an awakened sense of personal vulnerability, reminding us of the fragility of life.”

Fourth District Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn also spoke during the event.

“I wanted to be here tonight to offer my voice of comfort– but certainly grief– first to the family of Joey and Raihan and Omar. We do stand with you tonight and pledge to stand with you every day going forward,” Hahn said. “And I feel so sad for this city. You’ve had some tragedies in the last week– tragedies that do remind us that you can be in a friend’s back yard at a birthday party, or doing a tradition that every one of us had engaged in– which is on Halloween evening, trick-or-treating– and your life can be taken away from you. It’s a tragedy that reminds us to love each other a little bit better, a little bit harder, love your family, try not to be angry or hold grudges with people. There’s so much bitterness in our world right now. Maybe this will remind us to be kind to one another.”

The other incident to which Hahn referred was a mass shooting at a Halloween-themed house party on Oct. 29 that took the lives of three men and injured nine others.
Police Chief Robert Luna, flanked by Assistant Police Chief Wally Hebeish and Fire Chief Xavier Espino, said “the last 10 days” had been very difficult for the city’s residents.

“We find ourselves at our second vigil, just this week alone, mourning the tragic loss of life in our community,” he said. “The first vigil we attended was for the 12 shooting victims, three who have, unfortunately, lost their lives. Our hearts are heavy, but they go out to each and every one of you, as we grieve the loss of the Awaida Family,” he said. “Our Long Beach Police Department family stands with you, and, although I can’t even imagine the hurt that the family’s going through, please know this– that our police officers and firefighters who responded that evening to this tragic event are also grieving with a heavy heart.”

Luna added that the suspect was in custody and that his department would do everything in its power to hold him accountable for his role in the incident. Megan Kerr, who represents District 1 on the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education, was a neighbor of the victims of the Halloween-night crash.

“The immeasurable goodness of this family is breathtaking,” Kerr said, adding that, in her 46 years of living in Long Beach, she could not remember such sadness in the city. “It feels so heavy in the air that it seeps into our skin, and part of that, I believe, is the light that has gone out with these three incredible people.”
Others who spoke during the vigil included representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association, Antioch Church and the Long Beach Islamic Center, as well as families of the victims, who thanked those in attendance and the first responders who aided their relatives.