The Richmond community is in mourning following the murder of William Sims, an aspiring musician who was gunned down earlier this month in what appears to be a racially-motivated attack.
Local restaurants, community organizations and city leaders have all stepped forward to pay respects to Sims, who was at the Capri Club in El Sobrante on Nov. 12 when three men robbed and shot him outside the bar, apparently because he was black, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office.
The three suspects — Daniel Porter-Kelly, 31, Ray Simons, 32, and Daniel Ortega, 31 — are white men who live in the East Bay. So far, police have arrested Porter-Kelly, who on Monday pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and robbery, with a hate crime enhancement. The other two suspects remain on the loose and a manhunt has been underway since the brutal slaying.
Meanwhile, the Richmond and El Sobrante communities have been rallying support for the Sims family.
A fundraiser was held on Sunday at Mountain Mike’s Pizza on San Pablo Dam Road, with 25 percent of sales proceeds going to a fund to help pay for funeral expenses. Later that night, at around 5:30 p.m. on Appian Way, a community vigil that included a performance of “Hallelujah” from Jazzology, a Contra Costa College musical group to which Sims belonged, drew more than 250 people.
Heaps of flowers lined the Appian Way fence at the vigil, along with signs that condemned racism and violence. Speakers took to a microphone and talked about the importance of ensuring Sims’ legacy lives on, both through music and community activism. The 28-year-old played five instruments and enjoyed karaoke at the Capri Club.
“He was taken down by some idiots,” said a speaker at the vigil. “Some hateful people that didn’t understand his power. This power will not die. Will’s power is eternal…We’re going to keep speaking his name. And when we play our music, and when we sing our songs and we’re in the community, when we’re marching through the streets of El Sobrante, Richmond, Oakland, we’re going to keep his name going. That’s what it’s about.”
Others who knew Sims well spoke about his proclivity for helping others out of stressful situations.
“Will was my best friend,” Brett Murphy said. “He helped me out when I was going through my divorce, and was really the first person that I became friends with when I came here. He was an exceptional human being. He always made sure that others were having as much fun as he was.”
A slate of other vigils are planned in the coming days. On Tuesday, a community remembrance vigil at La Moine Valley View Park will honor Sims and other victims of gun violence. A silent vigil is also planned for Dec. 3 at the Hilltop Green Club House. Online efforts also have benefited from the outpouring of support, with a GoFundMe page raising more than $13,000 at the time of posting.
For the Sims, who have hired a lawyer and are worried about security because of the two suspects still on the loose, the donations are helping ease some of the financial burdens.
“Our thoughts and hopes are that the community will continue to provide the love and support that we’ve seen so far," said James Harris, a family friend who is speaking on behalf of the family. "What they are also hoping for is that this level of support translates to individuals in the community contacting the sheriff’s department with information leading to the arrests of the two outstanding suspects."
Other community organizations are also helping raise awareness about the crime. Theresa Greenwood, the founder of Richmond Street Angels, a group that plans vigils and helps families struggling with loss, said that rallying support helps show that hatred and bigotry won’t be tolerated in the city.
"The community is unifying and coming together to show the people who are doing these things that we are not going to tolerate it,” Greenwood said. “It’s shocking, disgusting, and repulsive what happened to Will Sims. We have to show people who think they can get away with it that they won’t. Not in our city or in the Bay Area.”
The timing of the incident — less than a week after the contentious 2016 Presidential Election — has also caused some community members — and commenters in the Twittersphere — to fear that the attack on Sims was motivated because of sentiments President-elect Donald Trump ratcheted up on the campaign trail. Hate-tracking groups have also made similar claims, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said that hate crimes were being reported at an “alarming rate” since Election Day.
Greenwood said she suspected that the election rhetoric could partly be to blame, while Richmond Mayor Tom Butt explicitly connected the crime to “nationwide surge” of vitriol in a statement.
“…His passing has left our community stunned and seeking justice for a young man who will be remembered as a talented musician and a kindhearted member of our community," Butt said. "I urge Richmond residents to maintain our city’s values of respect and care for one another, especially during a time when we are experiencing a nationwide surge in hate-filled hostility and threats to public safety...”
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com or at 669-289-2895.