CENTRAL FALLS – It outraged them that someone would be putting on a fundraiser to support Jorge DePina’s legal defense of charges he caused the injuries leading to his daughter Aleida DePina’s death on July 3 at Miriam Hospital.
And so, a group of moms from the area banded together and called attention to the planned event at the Tropical Restaurant at 855 Broad St. on Black Friday, winning its cancellation by Tropical owner Eugenio Gibau.
“I’m going to close,” Gibau said just before the planned event was to be held. The business owner acknowledged that he had learned more about the fundraiser party from the negative reaction to it in the Central Falls community. The owner had met with several of the protesters inside his business and said he wanted to close early for the evening to allow things to calm down about the fundraiser.
“I didn’t understand what it was about. I knew it was a party, and from now on I should ask what a party is for,” he said.
Gibau, adding that he has become disillusioned about remaining open on Broad Street as a result of controversy, said he believes the community needs to work together to avoid such hurtful matters. DePina, he added, is still only accused in his daughter’s killing, and likely has family members who still support him.
“We should talk things out between the members of the community before things like this happen,” he said.
Linda Rodrigues of Providence said the group of women had come to Broad Street to make sure attention was paid to the loss of Aleida DePina under such tragic circumstances.
“We came here against the fundraiser and we are here for Aleida DePina,” Rodrigues said. After the group arrived at the Tropical, they learned of Gibau’s cancelling of the event and commended him for being sensitive to the issue.
“That is what we had set out to do,” she said. “I think it shameful that members of her family should be doing a fundraiser for him.”
Others felt the same way, she said, and people have been calling the Tropical Restaurant and posting their feelings online, she said.
Another member of the group, Miryan Mendes of Pawtucket, said she got involved because she wanted people to remember 10-year-old Aleida DePina, an alleged victim of domestic violence and child abuse.
“It is important for people in general to remember what happened to her,” she said.
Linda Goncalves of Central Falls said the organizers of the protest all had children themselves, and she herself was the mother of four children, one a son aged 10. “We are here as mothers in support of Aleida and we wouldn’t want something like that done to our children,” she said. She too said she was happy that Gibau had cancelled the fundraiser and suggested that the support the group of protesters received may also have helped.
Sara Lopes of Central Falls, said the group had been prepared to spend all of Black Friday, a day normally known as the kickoff of the holiday shopping season, calling attention to Aleida’s loss if need be. “She did not need to have her life taken away from her in that way,” she said.
DePina, who had been taken to Miriam on the night of July 3, was found to have died of blunt force trauma. She was also observed to have bruises and burns all over her body when admitted. Although the state medical examiner ruled she died of blunt force trauma to the small intestine, the child was also listed as having injuries to her chest, stomach, back, legs and arms and possible cigarette burns.
DePina was charged with first-degree child abuse and cruelty to neglect of a child, and subsequently murder in connection with Aleida’s death. He is currently being held without bail at the ACI pending further hearings in his case.
Arthur Messier, 47, of Sylvian St., said he also wanted to support the protest of the fundraiser when he was found in a parking lot across the street from the Tropical Restaurant just before 7 p.m.
“I don’t feel that if you are alleged to have killed somebody, they should have a fundraiser to raise money to get you a private attorney,” he said. “You should never have killed the person you killed in the first place,” he added. The talk in the neighborhood was that DePina’s aunts, uncles and friends had wanted to hold the fundraiser, he said. Aleida’s mother was reported to be out of the country, “grieving her daughter’s loss,” he said. Another resident of the neighborhood, Ashley Littlejohn, 30, called Aleida’s death a “sad’’ tragedy, “very sad.” Littlejohn’s family is coping with its own tragedy from violence over the death of Robert Littlejohn, 27, in a still-unsolved shooting in the area of High and Blackstone streets on July 28.
Robert’s family members haven’t been told much about his killing and want to know more, according to Littlejohn. “We don’t know what happened to him other than that he was murdered,” Ashley Littlejohn said. “They still haven’t found his killer.”