“They’re not alone”: Sacramento community chaplains respond for I-5 victim family support

SACRAMENTO — On the shoulder of Interstate 5 and Sutterville Road in Sacramento, two strangers approached members of the Rodriguez family. They had just learned that two members of their family, Carlos and Lionel Rodriguez, had been killed.

Carlos went to help his brother Lionel Tuesday morning. Lionel’s truck had run out of gas near Interstate 5 and Sutterville Road around 6 am when California Highway Patrol investigators say a Sacramento police detective in an unmarked car crossed over the solid white line, hitting and killing both brothers.

A few hours later, the two strangers would arrive at the scene. Two lanes had been closed for hours and the two people worse, jackets that signaled why they were there, “Chaplain.”

They were volunteers with Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento. An organization of more than 40 volunteer chaplains who meet the greater Sacramento community where they’re needed. They can be called by law enforcement after a traumatic event, like the accident on I-5, or by community members who have experienced trauma and need support.

Their one job is to be present, according to Senior Chaplain Debra Fontes. They are trained in trauma response and are available 24/7 when called.

“We want to be able to help them process their grief and move through their grief and process alongside, so they know they’re not alone,” said Fontes.

She’s been a volunteer chaplain for 13 years and said it was a “calling.” She can’t imagine doing anything else because this job and the support offered by the services are critical in helping adults and children process grief.

“We come alongside them, provide resources, support, and just be with them in their worst times,” said Fontes.

In Sacramento this year alone, the volunteer chaplains have been present on K Street in downtown Sacramento after the city’s worst mass shooting that left six people dead, including three innocent women caught in the crossfire. The chaplains supported local law enforcement in Elk Grove after the death of Tyler Lenehan in January. He died on his way to work after he was hit head-on by a drunk driver on Highway 99.

The chaplains also offered their services and support to two Sacramento area schools after three school-aged children were shot and killed during a supervised visit at The Church in Sacramento on Wyda Way. Samantha Mora Gutierrez, 10; Samarah Mora Gutierrez, 9; Samia Mora Gutierrez, 13; were killed by their biological father, David Mora Rojas. The chaperone for the visit, Nathaniel Kong, was also killed.

The school crisis team within the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento responded to the children’s schools to offer tools for the faculty and students to process the immense loss.

On Tuesday, the school crisis team contacted the school where Carlos Rodriguez’s children are students to let their teachers know what happened and offer their own support to assist the students with their grief.

“We don’t give them details, we want to be respectful of the family, and their privacy, that’s been a personal crisis or tragedy. We just let them know we will be there for the school and faculty,” said Fontes.

Fontes told CBS13 she personally reached out to the Sacramento Police Department, too, to offer support for the detective who was involved in the crash. A spokesperson for the department confirmed Wednesday the detective is an active member of the department and is not on administrative leave.

The community chaplains can be contacted, for free, at their 24-Hour Confidential Helpline: (916) 857-1801.

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