GARDENA, Calif. - As Aztec dancers moved to traditional music there was a celebration of life for Severino Guttierez, a 34-year-old street vendor who everyone knew as "Elias." For 11 years "Elias" sold fruit from his cart after coming here from Mexico. Sheriff's deputies say that on Aug. 4 in Gardena two men tried to rob him before shooting and killing him. His 7-year-old daughter watched as it happened.
Elias' wife Adriana Flores Rodriguez said, "He was a very happy person, a super hard worker, the best husband, and father." She says he never worried for his own safety. Moreover, she says, he would always leave for work with a smile and come home the same way. But, says Adriana, he never stayed home out of fear.
There have been many incidents over the years involving street vendors. One told FOX 11 during the celebration that she looks for safe spots to place her clothing tent out of fear. She worries that what happened to Elias could happen to her and her children who also work in the business. She says it can feel vulnerable out on the streets.
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It's that danger that caused Nico Armenta - president of the Tanguis Market Farmers Market to work on getting vendors like 64-year-old Ignacio Torres into his safer marketplace.
One day Torres was stabbed by an assailant multiple times while selling food. He even showed us his wounds from the attack he'll never forget. This was his first day here in this market where he says he feels safer. In fact, there are 12 other vendors here for the first time getting help from Armenta and his non-profit. He says, it helps "... because our non-profit is directly working with them their process and doing the whole thing with permits - health permits - and showing them how to properly grow their business..." And they do all of that while staying safe.
Many who came to Sunday's celebration were moved by Elias' story. Gladys Cruz says, "It's bad. They need protection. All they're doing is trying to support their family you know." Norberto Ledesma told us, "...his daughter witnessed his murder, so I just feel bad."
Meanwhile, Adriana is still overwhelmed. As she wiped a tear from her eye Elias' wife told us how they met, moved in together, fell in love and - sadly - how he died doing what he loved. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help Guttierez's family, which has so far raised over $18,000.
Investigators are still searching for the two suspects they say shot Guttierez, as well as the murder weapon, but deputies did not offer a detailed description of the suspects.