Hundreds attend funeral for gay Latina teen killed by Denver police officers

Laura Hernandez, center, is surrounded by family members at a gravesite service for her 17-year-old daughter, Jessica, in Westminster, Colo. on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. David Zalubowski, AP

Laura Hernandez, center, is surrounded by family members at a gravesite service for her 17-year-old daughter, Jessica, in Westminster, Colo. on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. David Zalubowski, AP

Laura Hernandez, center, is surrounded by family members at a gravesite service for her 17-year-old daughter, Jessica, in Westminster, Colo. on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Hundreds of friends and relatives gathered Saturday to say goodbye to a 17-year-old lesbian teen shot to death by Denver police officers, recalling her big heart and gregarious spirit.

Mourners filled the pews at Saturday’s funeral for Jessica Hernandez at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Westminster, in the suburbs north of Denver where she grew up. The Mass was held in Spanish, with English translation for the crowd that spilled beyond the church’s doors.

Jessica Hernandez

Jessica Hernandez

The Rev. Richard Nakvasil remembered Hernandez as a devoted sister to her five siblings and as an empathetic teenager who tried to help the homeless. But he relied mostly on her own words, reading a poem she wrote in which she tried to summarize her complicated nature.

“I seem to be a fighter, someone who doesn’t like connections,” Nakvasil read, speaking into a microphone so those standing in the back could hear. “It seems I don’t want peace. But really I am outgoing … But really I do want peace. Where there is no violence. I really don’t want to fight.”

Police have said Hernandez was shot Jan. 26 after she drove a stolen car toward an officer in a residential alley in Denver. Police Chief Robert White has said officers repeatedly told her and four other teens to get out of the car before two officers opened fire. A passenger in the car has disputed the police account, saying Hernandez lost control of the vehicle because she had already been shot and was unconscious.

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The shooting, which remains under investigation, sparked angry protests and came amid a national debate about police use of force fueled by racially charged episodes in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. Hernandez’s family and others have called for an outside prosecutor to investigate what happened.

The Colorado Latino Forum has said conflicting police accounts of the incident are raising more questions. It said that because Hernandez was young, Latina and gay, she “carried three identities that have often suffered discrimination at the hands of law enforcement.”

On Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock canceled a speech at a gay rights conference because of protests at the event over the shooting.

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