‘They’re not alone’: Community chaplains in Sacramento respond to I-5 victim’s family support

SACRAMENTO — On the shoulder of Interstate 5 and Sutterville Road in Sacramento, two strangers approached members of the Rodriguez family. They had just learned that two members of their family, Carlos and Lionel Rodriguez, had been killed.

Carlos went to help his brother Lionel on Tuesday morning. Lionel’s truck had run out of gas near Interstate 5 and Sutterville Road around 6 a.m. when California Highway Patrol investigators say a Sacramento police detective in an unmarked car crossed the solid white line, to beat and kill both brothers.

A few hours later, the two strangers would arrive at the scene. Two lanes had been closed for hours, and the two people worse, jackets that signaled why they were there, “priest.”

They were volunteers with the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento. An organization of more than 40 volunteer chaplains who meet the greater Sacramento community where they are needed. They may be called by law enforcement after a traumatic event, like the accident on I-5, or by members of the community who have experienced trauma and need support.

Their one job is to be present, according to Senior Pastor Debra Fontes. They are trained in trauma response and are available 24/7 when called.

“We want to be able to help them process their grief and move through their grief and process on the side, so they know they’re not alone,” Fontes said.

She has been a volunteer pastor for 13 years and said it was a “calling.” She can’t imagine doing anything else because this job and the support the services offer are vital to helping adults and children process grief.

“We come alongside them, provide resources, support and just be with them in their worst times,” Fontes said.

In Sacramento this year alone, the volunteer chaplains have been on K Street in downtown Sacramento following the city’s worst mass shooting that left six people dead, including three innocent women caught in the crossfire. The priests supported local law enforcement in Elk Grove after the death of Tyler Lenehan in January. He died on his way to work after he was hit head-on by a drunk driver on the 99 freeway.

The pastors also offered their services and support to two Sacramento-area schools after three school-age children were shot and killed during a supervised visitation at the Church of Sacramento on Wyda Way. Samantha Mora Gutierrez, age 10; Samarah Mora Gutierrez, 9; Samia Mora Gutierrez, age 13; was killed by their biological father, David Mora Rojas. The leader of the visit, Nathaniel Kong, was also killed.

Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento’s School Crisis Team responded to the children’s schools to provide tools for faculty and students to process the tremendous loss.

On Tuesday, the school’s crisis team contacted the school where Carlos Rodriguez’s children are students to tell their teachers what happened and offer their own support to help the students with their grief.

“We’re not giving them details, we want to be respectful of the family and their privacy, it’s been a personal crisis or tragedy. We’re just letting them know we’ll be there for the school and the faculty,” Fontes said.

Fontes told CBS13 that she also personally contacted the Sacramento Police Department to offer support to the detective involved in the crash. A department spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the detective is an active member of the department and is not on administrative leave.

Community chaplains can be reached toll-free on their 24-hour confidential helpline: (916) 857-1801.

Leave a Comment