ARCADIA >> hundreds of community members rallied around the family of a 5-year-old South Pasadena boy found dead, allegedly at the hands of his father, after going missing for two months.
At a memorial at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden provided an outlet for the community to mourn Aramazd “Piqui” Andressian Jr. one day after the young boy’s funeral.
Concerned neighbors from near and far, many of whom had no personal connection to Andressian Jr. or his family, joined in the relentless multi-county search for “Piqui” as the days stretched into weeks, and eventually months, with no sign of the child. And news that the boy had been found dead not only devastated the family, but elicited both sorrow and anger from the community members who also remained hopeful that Andressian Jr. would be found safe.
“He touched the lives of so many people and became everybody’s child,” said his mother, Ana Estevez.“The outpouring of prayers, love kindness and support is awe-inspiring. The support received has brought my family and me great comfort, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for loving my son,” the mother said.
The body of Andressian Jr. was discovered June 30 near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County, where he was believed to have been taken by his father, 35-year-old Andressian Sr. The father, who was in the midst of a divorce with his son’s mother when they boy vanished under suspicious circumstances in late-April, has since been arrested in Las Vegas and pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in Los Angeles County.
Andressian Sr. is scheduled to appear Aug. 1 in the Alhambra branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court for a hearing in his case, records show. He’s being held in lieu of $10 million bail pending trial.
“I think of my son often,” Estevez said. “Piqui is the love of my life, today, tomorrow and always,” she said. “I’m so proud and honored that I was chosen to be his mama.”
Many of those gathered to mourn Andressian Jr. on Wednesday had a personal connection with the family.
Ernie and Gloria Preciado of Alhambra came to the event to show their respects. Ernie Preciado is a co-worker of Andressian Jr.’s uncle.
“We have a 5-year-old grandson that reminds me a lot of (Andressian Jr.),” he said.
A large number mourners had never known the family personally, but were nonetheless compelled to take an interest in their struggle.
Among them was Irene Carrillo of Valencia, who had a 6-year-old son.
“He just reminds me a lot of my boy,” she said. I just fell in love with the little boy, and I don’t even know him.”
Carrillo said she normally tries not to get personally involved in local news stories, but couldn’t help becoming wrapped up in Andressian Jr.’s case.
She said she made a shrine of candles at her home to pray for the little boy and his family.
In addition to sympathizing with a horrific situation affecting a local family, the University of Southern California’s National Center for School Crisis Bereavement Director Dr. David Schonfeld said there are psychological factors at play that affect the communities in the wake of tragedy.
While grief is generally considered to be a personal experience felt by those directly impacted by a loss, the community at-large can also experience a “shared experience of loss,” he said.
One phenomenon at play is that of, “the loss of the assumptive world,” he explained.
People rely on assumptions about the way the world should work in order to get through daily life, Schonfeld said. They range from assuming that other drivers will remain on the correct side of the road, to assuming that children are safe at school or with their parents.
“When we hear that one of those assumptions has been violated, even if it’s someone we don’t know, it affects us,” the doctor said. “It makes us realize that could happen to someone we care about. It makes us feel vulnerable.”
Following a tragedy that seemingly upends accepted assumptions, there’s a natural urge for community members to want to learn as much as they can about what took place, he said.
“They want to understand exactly what happened,” he said. There is often a sense that, “If I understand it better, I can protect myself and those I care about.”
Additionally, while many community members may not personally know a family affected by tragedy, it’s natural for people to identify with the pain of loss they’ve experience in their own lives.
“There is comfort in coming together as a group and as a community,” Schonfeld said.
The NCSCB, which specializes in dealing with crisis affecting students and schools, has published information to help parents and teachers speak with children about crisis and loss online at www.schoolcrisiscenter.org.
During Wednesday’s memorial service, loved ones shared happy memories of how Piqui had changed their lives for the better.
Uncle Shaun Estevez recounted his birth, his first holidays and other milestones.
“You still make my eyes water with joy and excitement, because I was blessed to be your uncle,” he said.
“In five years, you left a lifetime of memories,” the uncle said through tears. “I ask you for one favor my baby boy,” the uncle said through tears. “Please watch over my baby sister, your mama.
Other family members, family friends and Andressian Jr.’s school teachers lined up to eulogize the boy.
In addition to remembering the good times with Piqui, Ana Estevez also spoke of justice.
“His legacy is worthwhile. My son is worthwhile,” she said. “His death will not be in vain. There will be justice and accountability for Piqui, not only for the evil that caused this atrocity, but for the system and the individuals within the system that permitted this tragedy to happen. That is my promise to my son.”
She asked the community to keep her son in their thoughts, and not forget the lessons he taught.
“Please continue to love my son as I do, and always remember that one person can make a difference,” Estevez said.. “My son, a 5-year-old, made a difference in the lives of thousands. So in the spirit of Piqui, see you soon, alligator.”