The grieving family of a 12-year-old San Diego boy killed in a house fire last month held a public memorial for the boy on Saturday, as they said goodbye to their beloved child.
"It's okay to be sad," a speaker said at the memorial of Fernando Castro. "But he would want us to be happy."
Friends, family and community members gathered at 9 a.m. at the Jacobs Center Foundation at 404 Euclid Ave. for Fernando's memorial. To loved ones he was affectionately known as “Nano.”
"it's very touching and I know my son would be so happy," Juana Vasquez, Fernando's mother said Saturday. "It kind of hurts me that it takes a tragedy for a community to come together and I just hope we always stay like this."
The family invited the community to celebrate the boy’s life – a life tragically cut short in an overnight blaze that happened at the family’s home in the Mount Hope area on Nov. 30.
That night, Fernando and his young siblings – three-year-old half-sister Esmeralda and five-year-old half-brother Luis – were home, being cared for by a babysitter and her boyfriend, when a fire sparked inside the single-story residence on J Street, near Toyne Street.
The children’s mother was away, driving her eldest child back to college after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The fast-moving blaze proved to be deadly.
Firefighters found Fernando’s body inside the burned out home. Esmeralda and Luis survived, but suffered critical injuries that left them both hospitalized.
Today, the children remain in the hospital, with Esmeralda suffering from burns to about 40 percent of her body, while Luis has burns to 70 percent of his body.
Last week, Vasquez, told NBC 7 that doctors have told the family each child could need more than 80 operations between now and the age of 18 to fully recover from their severe injuries.
She said she has been by her surviving children’s bedsides since the blaze, “just holding on” and trying to be strong as she comes to terms with the tragedy, the continued recoveries of Esmeralda and Luis and the death of her “huggable,” smart and playful Nano.
“He was just full of life. He was very content,” said Vasquez, remembering her son at an event at his school last week, Millennial Tech Middle School, where faculty and students planted a pink lemonade tree in Fernando’s memory.
The mourning mother also recalled how her son would turn to give her a big “thumbs up” every morning before getting on the school bus.
“He was always an angel,” she said. “He was happy; he'd always welcome anybody in; he was very huggable.”
Vasquez said her family has received an outpouring of love, prayers and support from the San Diego community, which helps her go on. For the past few weeks, strangers have rallied to donate money, clothing and supplies to the family that lost so much.
The Burn Institute has also established a fund for the family, which the family says is the best way to donate at this point. Donations can be made by visiting The Burn Institute’s website and, in the drop-down menu options, designating the donation specifically for the family by selecting “Vasquez-Nunez/Castro Famile (Mt. Hope House Fire).” All proceeds will go directly to help the family with their immediate needs.
A GoFundMe account has also been established to pay for memorial services, as well as medical expenses. As of Friday afternoon, nearly $40,000 had been raised for the family via that online fund. The page also includes dozens of supportive messages from those who have donated.
Family members say they will continue to post updates on Esmeralda and Luis on their Facebook page here, as well as information on public events for Fernando.