Church youth program honors memory of slain teen

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 18, 2013 

— It's been a year since 15-year-old Isaiah Romero was killed in south Merced, but grandmother Eleanor Romero said she's found a way to keep moving forward.

"The next day after Isaiah had passed, my heart was just broken and torn," the 63-year-old said. "I prayed and said, 'Oh, God. How am I supposed to go on?' "

She said a weekly drop-in program designed to keep kids off the streets that bears her grandson's name, the Isaiah Project, has aided in her healing.

Isaiah was killed while riding his bicycle on July 20 of last year.

Merced police responded to the 1000 block of W Street at 12:45 a.m., after receiving a call of shots fired. There was a party going on at the residence there. Isaiah was found about a block away suffering from gunshot wounds. He died on the way to the hospital.

Romero said members of her church, Calvary Assembly of God Church, sprang forward to try to help area children and honored Isaiah in the process.

Dee Dee Claunch, the director and creator of the Isaiah Project, said she had known Isaiah since he was small. She said he attended a number of church functions for children.

She remembers hearing the news of his death. "We just knew that day we were going to do something," Claunch said,

So, with the help of a handful of others, Claunch began the Isaiah Project. The church opened its doors to youngsters in August.

Every Friday, the church offers food, basketball, table games, video games and a number of other activities aimed to keep children off the street.

The program is run by volunteers and paid for by donations. Organizers hope to operate it daily.

Isaiah's grandmother said he was full of potential and was plotting his future one step at a time. The freshman was looking forward to graduating high school.

Romero, who volunteers with the Isaiah Project, sees some of Isaiah in every one of the 85-150 children who participate each week.

She said the program is a success if it can spare even one child from a dubious fate, "one kid from joining a gang, one kid from knowing right from wrong, one kid that could see that there's hope," she said.

"I'm just a grandma who lost a grandson," she said, holding back tears. "I don't want to see any more kids go the way my Isaiah went."

Romero described her grandson, whom she had raised since he was 3, as "happy-go-lucky" and always smiling.

"They were a blessing to me, my kids," she said, referring to Isaiah and little brother Ilias, now 15. "They were my grandchildren, but, as time went on, I considered them as my own."

A special meeting of the Isaiah Project is planned from 5 to 9 p.m. today at Calvary Assembly of God, 1021 R St. in Merced.

While Isaiah's loved ones say they've made peace with his loss, his killer remains undiscovered.

Lt. Tom Trindad of the Merced Police Department said no arrests have been made in connection with Isaiah's murder. Police continue to investigate.

"There's somebody that knows what happened and needs to come forward," Trindad said.

Detectives are asking anyone with information to call (209) 385-4702 or the department's automated tip line at (209) 385-4725. Tips are kept confidential and tipsters can remain anonymous. Tips can be sent via text message to TIP411 (847411) by using "comvip" as the first word in the text message.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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