Mother of slain teen wants more lights in Denver parks

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DENVER — The mother of a 17-year-old who was shot and killed in a Green Valley Ranch park in September is now calling on Denver Parks and Recreation to look into lighting more of the city’s parks.

Diego Marquez was found lying on the ground in Green Valley West Ranch Park at East 45th Avenue and Argonne Street the morning of Sept. 21. He died of a gunshot wound.

The Denver Police Department has released few details about the homicide but the victim’s mother, Patricia Lopez, says her son’s life may have been saved had he been found earlier.

On Monday, Lopez had to bury her son.

“He was my baby. He had just turned 17 years old. No parent should ever receive that phone call,” Lopez said during a peaceful gun violence rally on Saturday.

Marquez’s story prompted another mother who lost her son to gun violence to address city leaders at the event.

“We have no lights in that park. What are we going to do to fix that? Her son was found the next morning by a woman and her kids. There was a coach leading the kids away,” said Autumn Lawrence, who was visibly upset.

After a long pause, she continued. “I’m angry,” she told the crowd.

Lopez says her son’s story has started a movement.

“We’re calling it the ‘Diego Light’,” she said.

Lopez says the message is simple: parks need more lights.

FOX31 discovered there are few lights in or near Green Valley West Ranch Park.

“It’s super dark,” said Michael Martinez, who has lived across the street from the park for the last 10 years. “I think the park needs to be lit. This area right here gets pretty dark at night.”

But Scott Gilmore with Denver Parks and Recreation says it’s not that simple.

“The smaller parks — a lot of them are not lit,” he said.

Gilmore says Denver Public Works has spent about two years planning and working on a lighting project at a much larger regional park in the area, Montbello Central Park.

“We decided that this park, because of the amenities in this park — the parking lot, the playground, the large walking loop in the park — we needed to light those amenities in the park,” he said.

The project will cost about $300,000.

“It’s not like when you’re at home and you want a new light in your house and you run to Walmart or Home Depot and buy a light and wire it up. You actually have to bring the utilities into the space that you’re going to light. You have to run the utilities. You have to work with Xcel, you have to work with public works,” Gilmore said.

He says budgeting and safety concerns also play a big role in their decision making.

“Sometimes, you don’t want to actually want to light some of these internal features in the park because it could encourage more behavior later in the evenings, that could actually lead to negative activity in the park,” he said when asked about putting lights in Green Valley West Ranch Park.

Gilmore says public works is working with Xcel Energy to convert older light fixtures in the area to LED lighting.

He recently spoke with Lopez about how to make the area safer.

“I said, ‘let’s do something and work toward a goal of actually improving lighting in the community. That would honor his loss more’,” Gilmore said.

He added that Parks and Recreation is now considering more lights for the park as well.

“We also will look with Public Works at the possibility of adding some lighting to the perimeter of the park. There is a sidewalk that goes around the perimeter of that park. We can look at some possible lighting of that,” Gilmore said.

He says if they were to put lights in Green Valley West Ranch Park, versus just on the perimeter, it would take a minimum of six months.

“We do have to bring in infrastructure, we need to make sure the lighting is in the right place and we have to find available funding,” Gilmore said.

There are still no arrests or suspects named in Marquez’s death. Anyone with information should contact the Denver Police Department.

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