Twenty-year-old Roberto Gonzalez died in a trauma unit at Nebraska Medicine in 2015, shortly after being shot on an Omaha street.
Through tears nearly four years later, his mother, Raquel Salinas, described her son at a news conference Friday as a person with a pure soul who was selfless, loving and funny. He had great people in his life but also bad influences, she said, and left home at the age of 17.
Salinas was at work that Jan. 22 morning when she heard about a shooting and remembered thinking she hoped the victim would make it. Shortly after that she got a call telling her it was her son who had been shot. She headed to the hospital in a blur.
"Once they told me he had passed, it changed my life forever. I have not been the same, nor my family," she said. "It only took one shot to the chest, and that's all that it took."
Salinas was sharing her story at a news conference to talk about a bill (LB174) introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, which would increase state spending on violence and gang activity prevention efforts.
The mother thanked trauma surgeon Dr. Charity Evans and the Dusk to Dawn program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center division of public health for helping her heal, allowing her to talk to at-risk youths, and helping other mothers avoid the tragedy that she had to endure.
“We all continue to be shocked and saddened by instances of violence in our state, and we know the tragic outcomes that happen when we fail to prevent violent incidents in our communities,” Bolz said.
"This is an issue that is literally life and death, and I am proud to be able to bring it for consideration of the Nebraska Legislature."
Bolz said violence continues to affect Nebraska neighborhoods and schools, including her own neighborhood. Last spring, 22-year-old Edgar "E.J." Union Jr., a father of five, was killed near 47th Street and Cooper Avenue in College View, a result of feuding gangs, according to police.
Bolz wants the Legislature to appropriate $1.525 million each fiscal year beginning in 2019-20 to the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice for use by the Office of Violence Prevention.
The programs funded by the Office of Violence Prevention are substantiated by research and expertise, she said. The partnership with UNMC will ensure the programs have the greatest impact possible and that they can be replicated in other areas of the state.
The money would be used to increase grants, develop an annual statewide strategic plan, increase administration, and develop a technical assistance partnership with the University of Nebraska.
"It's time we increase our state's preventative measures against violence," Bolz said.
Office of Violence Prevention projects help reduce street and gang violence, and homicides and injuries caused by firearms. Programs are also aimed at partnerships between law enforcement and schools, after-school programs and data collection on gang prevention.
Lincoln Police Capt. Jason Stille, who has been with the department 21 years, said it seemed anecdotally that gang activity and violence have increased in Lincoln.
"We have found through Operation Tipping Point and similar programs that the education piece, the prevention piece, is every bit as important to cut down on the crime trends and gang activity," Stille said.
Operation Tipping Point identifies youths engaging in at-risk behaviors that could lead to criminal gang affiliation.
Mayor Chris Beutler spoke at the news conference, saying Lincoln has a lower crime rate than other cities its size, due in part to community policing and to collaboration with Lincoln Public Schools.
An outreach coordinator, funded in part by the Office of Violence Prevention, interviews students and families to assess risk factors and directs families to social service resources. The LPD gang unit also receives enhanced training through the funding.
"The Office of Violence Prevention will continue to be a vital part of our success in doing this," Beutler said. "This increased funding proposal greatly impacts in a positive way our ability to reduce crime and to build relationships with youth who may be facing pressures to deviate from a path of success," he said.
Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha is co-sponsoring the bill.