Partners in Peace: Gun Violence at the Modesto Church of the Brethren

by Karleen Daniels, Modesto Church of the Brethren

Photo Credits: Modesto Church of the Brethren website

“They are blessed who work for peace, for they will be called God’s children.” – Matt. 5:9 (NCV)

On December 29, 2020, a 29-year-old man, Trevor Seever, was shot to death near the labyrinth of the Modesto Church of the Brethren property. He had made a threatening call to his family indicating he may have purchased a gun and he was on his way to their house. He had also posted threatening messages on social media about wanting to kill policemen. His family learned later that the posting had been done by a friend on Trevor’s phone as a joke. Trevor had recently been jailed for a few days from a DUI conviction where he was placed in solitary confinement after an incident with a guard. During his short confinement he was sleep deprived and his dietary restrictions were ignored.  

A police officer, Joseph Lamantia, arrived on the scene and rapidly fired several shots from a distance that hit Seever in the back, chest, and abdomen. He died from loss of blood. Tony Lopez, of CBS news, reported that the officer had not followed police policy, procedures, and training. Upon searching Seever, they found he was unarmed. Officer Joseph Lamantia has been involved in four other killings and was finally fired and arrested in March, 2021. The city paid $7.5 million to settle the family’s civil rights lawsuit. Officer Lamantia was recently acquitted on July 21, 2023, and he is fighting to get his job back with the Modesto Police Department.

What to do when you don’t know what to do?

This event happened at a very difficult and trying time. We were in the middle of the Covid isolation period and unable to connect with one another except by Zoom. It was the height of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as calls to defund the police department.

No one in our church knew the Seever family. How do we support this family that no one knows? Will we appear to be proselytizing if we reach out? We had no guidelines for this type of disaster! The denominational staff did not contact us for guidance. Our district executive, Russ Matteson, was quite supportive, but we mostly felt our church was on its own to do the right thing. 

One of our members, Elaine Forcier, happened to see the mother and step father of Trevor at the labyrinth shortly after the shooting and became a friend and liaison between the family and the church after that meeting. Trevor’s mother asked for a short memorial service for Trevor at the labyrinth. Many church members attended that service. Later, she requested a small temporary sign be put on the corner of the church property asking for justice for Trevor. A few of our members also participated in some protest rallies concerning the police officer. The family wanted a 30th birthday party for Trevor to be held at the labyrinth with pictures of him in various aspects of his life. Many memories were shared by family and friends. Members of the church attended the birthday party as well. Trevor’s mother’s last request was a memorial bench matching the other benches at the labyrinth with a small plaque on it with Trevor’s name. Her request was granted by the church. Our church has tried to be supportive to the family of Trevor Seever in any way we could.

Since this shooting, the city has formed a Community Policing Review Board of which a member from our church, Jim Costello and Trevor’s mother, Darlene Ruiz, are members. There has also been an effort to increase mental health professionals responding to those at risk. Our pastor has led a meaningful workshop for the “Ventures in Christian Discipleship,” a program through the McPherson College. In the workshop, Andrew talks about our dilemmas and how we fumbled through them, and he tried to help participants of the workshop think about what they might do in the same situation. The workshop also has short videos of Elaine Forcier, who was the first contact with the family, Trevor’s mother, Darlene Ruiz, and Kim Boardman, the church board chair. You can see the workshop by going to this site.

Needless to say, the trauma of the violence never goes away for anyone involved. There are reminders all around. One can only strive to create something positive out of the situation -- to create something to help others get through similar situations, change or improve things that caused the situation, and honor the dead with a positive action to help everyone move forward.


Has your church taken some action for gun violence prevention? If so, we want to hear about it! Email [email protected] and let us know.

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