SANTA MARIA, Calif.
A day after Santa Maria Police shot and killed a troubled homeless man after they say he lunged at them with a knife, the community is still coming to grips with what happened. Tonight – there’s a call for more attention to mental health and making sure people get help.
The memorial nearly doubled throughout the day with family and friends coming by to pay their respects.
Earlier today KCOY 12 spoke with a mental health professional who says this man could still be alive if he’d gotten help.
“I think what happened yesterday is tragic,” Clinical Director of Transitions Mental Health Association Meghan Boaz Alvarez said.
Family and friends gathered Thursday afternoon where 31-year-old Javier Gaona of Santa Maria was shot and killed by Santa Maria Police Wednesday after they say he was acting suicidal, trying to stab himself, before charging at them with a knife.
Gaona’s family would not speak on camera as they were still too emotional to say anything. Off camera they did tell us they’re thankful for the kindness people in the community have shown.
“Somebody who really needed help didn’t have the opportunity or really even the knowledge about what was available,” Alvarez said.
Meghan Boaz Alvarez is the Clinical Director for Transitions Mental Health Association. She says this man could still be alive if he’d gotten the proper help and that mental health is a nationwide issue. She noted that about one in four people suffer from some level of mental illness.
“I think it’s a public health issue and I don’t think you always see it that way, I think you think of diabetes and drugs and alcohol as public health issues,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez says there’s short term and long term solutions – like walk-in clinics, emergency hotlines and websites.
“Sometimes people are feeling really sad and they need help and there’s something we can do about that,” Alvarez said.
She’d also like to see mental health being taught early in schools.
“If you had a friend who was bleeding you would say, hey I think you should get that checked and I don’t think we do that for mental health issues,” Alvarez said.
People who came out to the memorial shared different feelings about yesterday’s officer involved shooting.
“I think it’s horrible, I think cops are getting a bad wrap now,” Santa Maria resident Allison Allen said.
“To kill someone just like that, they should’ve taken more time to calm that person down,” Santa Maria resident Martin Martinez said.
“It’s ok to talk about this, if you’re having these thoughts, it’s ok to say so,” Alvarez said.
Again, there’s several walk-in clinics, emergency hotlines and websites if you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Transitions Mental Health Association Hotline: 1-800-783-0607
Transitions Mental Health Association in Santa Maria address:
225 Inger Drive Suite 101A, Santa Maria, Ca