Her death came unexpectedly. By Monday evening a vigil had formed outside Alatorre’s home in south Bakersfield. Around 300 people gathered to remember the life of the girl who family members described as someone who aspired to drive dirt bikes and loved fishing.
The vigil was highly emotional, with many openly weeping as songs played over a stereo. Originally, the event had been planned as part of an awareness campaign by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. Only when law enforcement announced Alatorre had died did it become a vigil.
“We’re here for the family, to show them support in their time of need,” chapter President Reginald Gardner II announced during the vigil. He added separately he was a father to several daughters, and Alatorre’s death affected him deeply.
“It’s just hard being a parent,” he said. “I just wanted to give our love for the family.”
Bakersfield Police Department announced a suspect had been arrested for the alleged rape and murder of Alatorre, who was last seen one week ago near her home on Crescent Ridge Drive, near the intersection of Wible Road and Hosking Avenue in south Bakersfield.
Armando Cruz, 24, of Inglewood, is being held without bail in the Kern County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned in Kern County Superior Court on Tuesday. Police are seeking additional charges against Cruz for contacting a minor with the intent to commit a sexual offense and destroying evidence among others, according to the booking information on the Kern County Sheriff’s Office website.
Citing an ongoing investigation, police have released few details about Alatorre’s death, including whether her remains had been located or the manner in which she died.
At the vigil, speakers said Alatorre’s death impacted the entire community, not just her own family.
“These things shouldn’t happen,” said Alice Castillo, who has helped the family since learning of Alatorre’s disappearance. She said she lost two children of her own, and wanted to help the family grieve.
“I’ve been able to deal with my grief so I can help another mother with her grief,” she said.
She added that she hoped parents would spend more time with their children.
“Kids need our presence, not our presents,” she said. “We just need to be more present in their lives and let them know that they’re good enough.”
Alatorre’s death comes just after the killing of two girls, ages 11 and 12, in a drive-by shooting in Delano last week. And Monday, police announced a search for two other missing Bakersfield girls. Brisa Torres, 16, was last seen getting into a white pickup truck Thursday morning in the 9000 block of Mendocino Drive near Calloway Drive and Brimhall Road, and Katlyn Kinoshita, 17, was last seen at 3:30 a.m. Saturday in the 3800 block of Monitor Street, according to BPD.
Responding to the news of her death, Alatorre’s teachers at McKee Middle School recalled her as the type of student who won’t be forgotten in an email sent by the superintendent of Greenfield Union School District.
Lakisha Thomas, Alatorre’s sixth grade teacher, said Alatorre was the youngest child in her family and “you couldn’t help but love her.”
“She was petite in size but carried a big presence, you couldn’t help but notice she was in the room,” wrote Thomas. “If I needed everyone’s attention in class, she used that big voice of hers to ensure everyone was attentive. ‘Mama Patti’ is what we affectionately called her in class, she was bold and always spoke the truth, even if it was her own, but again it was OK because it was ‘Mama Patti.’
Science teacher Jacquelyn Johnson described her as “sassy, social, and smart.”
“I will forever look at my classroom and see her in her seat, looking at me with her beautiful smile,” Johnson said. “Her seat will be reserved for the 2020-21 school year.”
History teacher Spence Hillis called Alatorre “a sweet and joyful child” who “always came to class with a smile and willingness to learn.”
“I will always cherish the moments and laughs we shared,” Hillis wrote. “She was and will forever be one of my favorite students I ever had the privilege to teach.”
Grief Counseling Services will be available to students, parents, and the school community from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at McKee Middle School, the district announced.
A second gathering is planned from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday in front of the Kern County Superior Court on Truxtun Avenue.
Reporter Sam Morgen contributed to this report.
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