Carrying white roses, asters and lilies, well over 200 people marched the streets of downtown Annapolis Sunday morning to mourn three Latino men who were fatally shot by a white neighbor one week ago — calling for acknowledgment that the killings were spurred by racism and for lawmakers to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable.
“This senseless act of violence was racially-motivated. And we want the world to know,” said Julian Segovia, whose brother was slain in the mass shooting that injured three other people south of downtown Annapolis.
Mario Mireles, 27, his father Nicholas Mireles, 55, and a family friend, Christian Marlon Segovia, 25, lost their lives when Mireles’ neighbor, Charles Robert Smith, 43, shot six people during a birthday party for Mario’s older brother Sunday night. Smith had harassed the Mireles family for years over parking, family members said.
Police say Smith shot Mario Mireles and Segovia during a “tussle” over Smith’s gun on Paddington Place in their neighborhood, after Smith’s mother Shirley Smith called a parking enforcement employee to complain about a vehicle blocking their driveway. Police say Smith then stood over Mario Mireles and shot him “several more times.”
Smith retreated to his home before emerging with a rifle and fired out of a front window at people who ran to help.
Those shots killed Nicholas Mireles and wounded three others — Rosalina Segovia, 29; Paul Johnson, 28; and 26-year-old and Enner Canales-Hernandez. All three were treated at area hospitals, police said.
Smith was charged with three counts of second-degree murder and related offenses. He’s being held without bail. On Sunday, families of the deceased called on authorities to also charge Shirley Smith, who filed for a peace order against Mario Mireles in 2016 after she said he nearly hit her car backing out of his driveway. In prior years Shirley Smith reported Mario Mireles to police for throwing rocks at street signs and because she said his family threatened to sue her.
“We’re afraid for our kids,” said Ethel Wirth, Annapolis community leader who runs the Facebook group Se Fuerte Annapolis; the group aims to better connect Anne Arundel County Hispanic and Latino people with resources.
“The fact that he shot at him [Mario] and then come back at him to do it again … it’s a hate crime,” she said. “We are scared our kids will be the next Mario Mireles.”
An attorney for Smith has said Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Police recovered a semi-automatic handgun and a long gun in his possession.
But “allegations that that man had PTSD is a shallow excuse for why he took the lives of three people,” Julian Segovia told the crowd of demonstrators and elected officials who marched from the State House to Annapolis City Dock Sunday morning.
Fathers ‘held this family together,’ son says
Through tears that echoed throughout the grief-stricken throng, family members of the Mireles and Segovia spoke of the deceased fathers’ deep love for family and friends, their resilience, and their endless support.
Mario Mireles’ wife is pregnant with Mario’s fourth child, according to a GoFundMe page created to cover funeral expenses. He was one of Nicholas Mireles’ 10 children.
Segovia has one child and his girlfriend is three months pregnant with his second, Christian Segovia Sr. said after the vigil, holding a banner with a picture of his son and grandson, Christian Segovia III, who proudly held up a certificate showing his graduation from kindergarten this year.
Nicholas Mireles “was the glue that held this family together,” his son 16-year-old son Eric Mireles told marchers. His father, who owned a landscaping business, was supposed to finish building his family’s patio Sunday, his 12-year-old son said.
“When he walked into a room his smile would warm up your heart and you couldn’t help but be happy,” Eric Mireles said.
After the vigil, Segovia Sr. told a reporter of his son’s generosity. He made a habit of buying food for hungry, vulnerable people if he saw them lingering outside a convenience store. As a child, Segovia Jr. — affectionately known as ‘el chele,’ or fair-skinned, a childhood nickname — frequently returned home with different shoes — always worse than the ones he left in.
“He knew his friends couldn’t afford those shoes,” Segovia Sr. said. Nearby, demonstrators cast flower petals into the water, where they drifted through the Annapolis Harbor.
“These aren’t just names and ages listed in the newspaper. These are people with families, hopes and dreams,” said Laura Morris, co-lead of Anne Arundel’s chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national gun safety advocacy organization. “They’re not just another statistic splashed across the front page.”
Families say lawmakers will be held accountable
City, county and state lawmakers who spoke at Lawyers Mall, where the march began, pledged to fight for justice for their Hispanic and Latino constituents. Democratic Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said he supported the right to own firearms, but that guns need to be kept out of the wrong hands.
“We have to stand up for one another,” Buckley, flanked by the deceased’s families, said. “From the governor’s office to the ... mayor’s office — we will fight for you.”
About an hour later at City Dock, Julian Segovia acknowledged elected officials’ “many promises today that the government will be there for us, and help us, and that they feel sorry for us.”
He’s heard it before, he said.
“We see it time and time again, administration after administration — what has changed?” he asked.
In 2018 during Buckley’s first term, five members of The Capital Gazette were fatally shot in their Annapolis newsroom. Demonstrators say gun violence in the Maryland capital persists. Mariana Segovia told demonstrators a detective investigating her brother’s murder texted her on the day of her brother’s funeral that crime lab technicians were unable to examine his cell phone and necklace because they “got tied up with another shooting.”
“No one cares until it happens to them,” Mariana Segovia, Christian Segovia Jr.’s sister, said.
“We heard about Columbine,” and Sandy Hook, and The Capital, “and countless others,” she went on. “And then the detective tells me one more.”
State Sen. Sarah Elfreth, who represents south Anne Arundel County, where Smith committed the mass shooting, said “this was an act of...” before trailing off.
“They’re still investigating if it was a hate crime,” she finished. “Clearly, it terrorized a community. To shoot into a crowd ... it’s unconscionable.”
Elfreth, a Democrat, cautioned that “patience is required to make sure that the strongest case can be brought.” That takes time for police and prosecutors to investigate, she said.
She finished by saying the Hispanic and Latino communities in Anne Arundel “are our neighbors. They are part of us and we will protect them.”
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, a member of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus who attended the vigil, said Hispanic and Latinos are “a hardworking community that is often in the shadows and overlooked.”
The Democrat, who represents districts in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, said the Latino caucus expects to meet with Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Annapolis officials in the coming week “to figure this out — and do it in an intelligent way. And we are going to be at the table.”