Even as officials with the Bakersfield Police Department held a press conference Tuesday evening in an effort to explain how a 73-year-old unarmed grandfather was shot and killed by a BPD officer Monday, hundreds of people gathered at the man's home in southwest Bakersfield to mourn and to offer support to the family.
The question on many minds was "When will it end?"
As mourners carrying lighted candles crowded onto the lawn the throng overflowed into the suburban street in southwest Bakersfield. Large photos of the deceased were on display, accompanied by the words, "Justice for Francisco Serna."
Family members, including Serna's five adult children and his wife, Rubia Serna, held each other at the center of the gathering. Children cried. Reporters worked. But the crowd was silent, respectful and sorrowful.
Cyndi Imperial, a friend of the family, read a statement from the Sernas.
The elder Serna, the statement said, had been married to Rubia Serna for 52 years. They have five adult children, 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
"It is difficult to accept that our dad's life ended so brutally, abruptly and with such excessive violence. We feel our dad was stolen from us at a time when our family should be celebrating the holidays, birthdays and making happy family memories," Imperial read.
"Instead, our dad was murdered by BPD...
"Our dad was treated like a criminal, and we feel he was left to die alone, without his family by his side. Our family was questioned and restricted from comforting our mother for about 14 hours, while BPD completed their investigation.
"Family who asked to see their mother were told by BPD that if they crossed the police line they would be arrested."
According to family members, details were withheld from the family by investigators. They said they learned, not from the police, but from social media and the morning news that their father had died.
The family is asking for a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. They also called upon the state attorney general to launch an independent investigation.
Prayers were recited in English and in Spanish.
Longtime labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, clearly shaken by events, cried out for justice as she spoke briefly at the vigil.
She called it "another" in a long list of "senseless killings by the police department and the sheriff's department."
Indeed some news outlets have concluded Bakersfield and Kern County have the most dangerous law enforcement agencies in the nation, when comparing the number of per-capita officer-involved shootings with other metro areas.
"We have to put a stop to this," Huerta said, her voice quaking with emotion. "Stop the killing of our citizens, especially our citizens of color."
"We don't know who the next innocent victim will be," she said.
At its own press conference Tuesday evening, BPD officials said Serna was behaving eratically, twice accosted people in his neighborhood who believed he was armed with a gun.
Officers arrived at 12:41 a.m. and spoke to a woman who was accosted by Serna, police said. Several other officers also arrived, and as they were talking the woman saw Serna come out of his house across the street, pointed at him and said, “That’s him.”
Serna began walking toward officers with both hands in his pockets. The officers took cover and gave several commands for Serna to stop and show his hands, but he did not comply, according to police.
Police said Serna walked directly to Officer Reagan Selman and continued ignoring officers’ commands. Selman fired seven rounds at Serna when the man was 15 to 20 feet away.
Roxanna Sarabia, one of those who attended Tuesday night's vigil, said police "need to stop making excuses for killing unarmed people."
She said it's gotten to the point that women who feel threatened by domestic violence, or people who have a family member who is mentally ill, are now reluctant to call the police for assistance for fear that a loved one will end up dead.
Sarah Cosper, who attended the vigil with two others, said Francisco Serna reminded her of her own grandfather.
"Can't our abuelos, or grandfathers, walk on the street without fear of being shot by police?" she asked.
Police, she said, are supposed to protect those who are most vulnerable.