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A sea of orange swept through Gilbert as marchers wearing orange glow sticks as bracelets and necklaces called for justice for a murdered 16-year-old and other victims of violent attacks.
People carried signs saying, « Be an Upstander. Don’t just stand by … If you know something SAY SOMETHING!!! »
Community members, family and friends of 16-year-old Preston Lord walked in solidarity on Thursday night to mark the two-month anniversary of the attack that led to his death.
Passing cars honked their horns in support as community members walked from Mesquite High School to the Gilbert Police Department to « Light the Night » in honor of Lord.
Charges referred in Lord case: Queen Creek police seek charges against 7 teens, adults in death of Preston Lord
In social media posts, the Gilbert march was described as a request to police and the Town Council to continue investigating teen assault cases. Supporters came to demand action against the « Gilbert Goons, » a gang of southeast Valley teenagers that, for more than a year, has carried out violent attacks on other teens, mostly in Gilbert.
Lord’s aunt recalls being first to arrive at hospital
« My nephew Preston was brutally attacked at a Halloween party exactly two months ago tonight, » Melissa Lombardo Lord said to the gathered crowd.
As a nurse, Melissa ran through medical scenarios of what Preston’s condition would have looked like when she arrived at the hospital he was transported to.
« Bruises, maybe a black eye or some broken bones. Never could I have imagined the scene that we would walk into that night. »
When she checked in, hospital staff avoided eye contact, and told her to follow them. She described being put into a small room and being told the doctor and social worker would join her. That’s when she knew it was bad.
« I knew without her saying anything. I knew we were about to be dropped to our knees, » Melissa said.
Brass knuckles, beatings, fear: Random attacks on teens loom over Preston Lord murder case
When Preston’s parents arrived, she said that medical personnel told the family that Preston sustained a significant brain injury and he was unable to breathe on his own.
They also told them he would likely never be coming home.
« I don’t know why this happened to Preston or our family. It’s a question I’ve asked God daily for 61 days. But I do have faith that the impact he is making is not for nothing. »
Lord’s fatal beating connected to string of attacks
An investigation by The Arizona Republic found the Goons recorded themselves carrying out random assaults in mall parking lots, outside fast-food restaurants, at parks and at house parties. The Goons had engaged in a string of blitz-style attacks on other teens in the southeast Valley for more than a year, according to interviews, court and police records, and social media posts.
A month ago, another group of orange-clad marchers walked 2.5 miles to the Queen Creek police station. They were pressuring authorities to make arrests in Lord’s death.
Parents, students, and community organizers in the southeast Valley say members of the Goons were involved in the Oct. 28 fatal beating of Lord in Queen Creek. Lord died two days after he was found in the street outside a Halloween party.
On Thursday, marchers rejoiced after learning Queen Creek police were seeking criminal charges against seven « adults and juveniles » in the death of Lord. The department confirmed it made multiple criminal referrals to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. The county attorney was expected to review the submissions and determine who should be charged and for what.
Community activist Kristine Brennan said victims’ families were one step closer to justice, not only for Lord but for victims of the Goons’ attacks.
« There’s still a lot of work that has to be done; we know that, » Brennan said. « Because right now it’s just those seven. There’s more than seven. »
She said she hoped the criminal referrals to the county attorney would lead to arrests.
« We still have more work to do. But great news today.”
Brennan said the march was in Gilbert because the majority of the « Goons » live there and it was the hub of many attacks on teens.
« There have been multiple assaults in Gilbert, and kids have had to leave the country, » Brennan said. « We’re in Gilbert because we’re affected by it.”
Neither Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson nor police Chief Michael Soelberg spoke at the march.
Outside Gilbert police headquarters, a speaker next to a picture of Lord played “Rise Up” by Andra Day. Attendees lit the area with their phones, some holding up their signs and embracing one another.
Community activist Angela Rogers called the crowd at the Police Department « the helpers. »
“They’d like for this to die and turn into a cold case file, » Rogers said. “Any moment that could be another kid in another community.”
Rogers asked the crowd to say Preston Lord’s name.
Melissa Ciconte, Lord’s stepmother, brought up that the Queen Creek police officials said some parents refused to let kids participate in the investigation.
“Is this what we are teaching our children, » Ciconte asked, « to be a bystander and not do what is right?”
She asked kids in the crowd to be « upstanders, » not bystanders, and to share information.
Brennan said she hoped the march would show the Gilbert police and Town Council that the community was unified.
« This is an issue that affects the entire community ― both old and young are here, » she said. « We want our police to be successful. We want to help them.”
Kids at scene of Lord’s beating provide more details
Over the past month, new accounts from the night of Lord’s beating have emerged.
Case developments: New ‘Gilbert Goons’ beating video, chilling account of Preston Lord’s attack emerge
Mario Hernandez told The Arizona Republic that his son was with Lord at the Halloween party when the Goons went after them and their friends; the two ran in different directions. It wasn’t until his son ran into a group of kids who were shouting, « There’s a kid lying in the street, » that he saw his friend again, beaten.
Karli Heinmiller told The Republic that a Goon climbed into a car where her teenage daughter waited.
He bragged, « I knocked that kid out, » Heinmiller told The Republic. Her daughter later told a detective about what her then-boyfriend did that night.
At the crime scene: ‘Gilbert Goon’ girlfriend recounts deadly Halloween party
Days later, a chilling message that could be read as a confession was posted on a Snapchat account under the name of that same Goon member.
« I hit a kid and this kid feel hit his head and then they kicked his head in the ground then i got word he died so idk, » the post read. IDK is textspeak for « I don’t know. »
A screenshot of the post has circulated widely on social media. The Republic could not verify the authenticity of the post. The teenager and his parents did not respond to multiple interview requests about it.
The Republic is not naming individual Goons, even in cases where they were convicted of assaults and other crimes, because they are underage. None has been charged or identified by authorities as suspects in Lord’s murder, which remains unsolved.
Cases revisited: Gilbert police reopen investigations after The Republic connects ‘Goon’ beatings
Shane Krauser, who is vying for Gilbert’s mayoral seat on the council, said he showed up to the march to show support for Lord.
Krauser shared concerns he has heard from community members on the lack of communication from Mayor Peterson, the Town Council, and the police chief. Officials should be informing the public in order to prevent crimes from happening in the first place and hold those accountable for crimes that have already occurred, he said.
« It did very little to make the community feel comfortable that action is being taken to hold individuals accountable. »
Though since Gilbert has reopened cases, Krauser said he has hope.
Republic reporters Robert Anglen and Jimmy Jenkins contributed to this article.
Elena Santa Cruz is a criminal justice reporter for The Republic. Reach her at email@example.com or 480-466-2265. Follow her on X at @ecsantacruz3.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Gilbert marchers seek justice in Preston Lord murder case
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