DVC grieves loss of long time teacher and mentor

Christian Villanueva

Teachers, tutors, students and others touched by Catarina Torres’ life gathered Monday in the Trophy Room to celebrate her 20 years at DVC as a student, tutor, teacher and mentor in the Puente program. In the quad, an impromptu memorial featured candles and notes in honor of Torres, 44, who was shot to death Saturday as she tried to defend her cousin, Margarita Sandoval from her estranged husband.

Torres was working in Sandoval’s busy salon in Martinez when the gunman broke through the front window, looking for his wife. During the six-minute rampage, he also shot and killed a Martinez police officer.

“So, Gata brings us together in this way,” said counselor Lupe Dannels as she embraced Torres’ friend and former co-worker, Maria Preciado. There were laughter and tears, as people shared stories about a woman who inspired many. Ironically, Torres’ own husband had entered the same salon and stabbed her 15 years ago. The assault turned her into an advocate for victims of domestic abuse, Preciado said. “She took those negative experiences and turned them into positives,” Preciado said. The mother of two faced some big challenges herself. Torres was dyslexic, yet she worked her way through DVC and went on to graduate from St. Mary’s College. “She was a champion of oppressed people,” said counselor Katherine Jester. Torres volunteered at STAND, a Concord-based woman shelter for abused women, as well as at Go Get It (GGI), an after-school tutor program in Concord . “Catalina would take (students) to local campuses, to Berkeley, to St. Mary’s,” said Emmanuel Moon, remembering time he spent volunteering with Torres. Torres was involved in the Puente Program, the Latino student club, DSS, EOPS, tutoring, and, in the summer, she taught Spanish in College for Kids. At the hospital on the day of her shooting, one of the nurses on duty was a past student of hers. “You couldn’t be tutored by her and not be her friend,” said DVC student Chelle Shauben. “Cat was the one who made me understand math.” The DVC Foundation has set up a memorial scholarship, as well as a fund to cover funeral costs and help the family. Checks can be sent the DVC Foundation. Specify on the memo line whether the donation is to the Family Fund, or Catalina Torres Scholarship Fund. A vigil will be held at 7 tonight, followed by a funeral mass at 2 p.m. Friday at St Catherine’s Catholic Church, 1125 Ferry Street, Martinez.