By Joel Warner
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Eight days after Danny's funeral service, his parents and sister gathered in front of the Nativity scene at the Denver City and County Building. The weather was turning colder and snow was in the forecast as they waited for a few reporters to gather with their cameras and notepads.
Their "press conference" wasn't exactly the biggest news of the day. After all, there was a full-scale riot going on in Seattle, the Ramseys were suing the Star for $25 million, and jurors were beginning deliberations in the murder trial of skinhead Nathan Thill.
Even though Danny died in a police shooting, his death was not receiving anywhere near the attention of the no-knock drug raid in which cops had killed 45-year-old Ismael Mena. The Lopezes were just the family of a known gang member complaining that their son and brother, Danny Ray Lopez III, had been the victim of "blue justice."
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"Dealing With the Devil"
The Lopezes wanted to announce that Danny's nineteen-year-old brother, Dustin, had turned himself in to face charges of first-degree attempted murder, aggravated robbery, first-degree assault and aggravated car theft.
And they wanted to say that Danny didn't have to die the way he did. No matter what the police were saying, the family didn't believe Danny was much of a gang member. He was too soft, too loving, too nice -- despite his criminal record. Danny wasn't hardcore like the Martinez brothers or their brutal friend Pancho, who had started the notorious Deuce-Seven Bloods and initiated Danny into it. He wasn't crazy violent like Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas or a killer like Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr.
But the Metro-Area Gang Task Force saw him differently. They'd heard that as soon as he was released from prison, Danny had let it be known that the Deuce-Seven were back and that he was going to re-establish the gang's reputation on the streets. The Deuce-Seven had taken a beating in the past couple of years, especially after seven members were implicated in the 1997 rape and murder of fourteen-year-old Brandy DuVall.
Even the other Bloods gangs were incensed by the DuVall killing. Child molesters. Baby-rapers. That's how the Deuce-Seven was referred to on the streets and in the prisons after it happened. Word was that they were marked men.
Danny, who'd been in prison at the time, wasn't as tainted by DuVall's murder. But it was the way he died that made him a gang legend. Judging by the number of rival gangbangers who had attended his funeral services dressed in red to show their respect, Danny had obviously succeeded in reviving the reputation of his old gang -- whether or not that had been his intention.
The Adams County district attorney had yet to announce the findings of its official investigation into Danny's shooting. But the Lopez family didn't expect that the police would hold their own accountable for his death. Not when the victim was a gang member.
And now they had to submerge their grief while they turned their attention to Danny's younger brother, nineteen-year-old Dustin, who had been there when his brother shot the police officer and, sixteen days later, was running when he heard the fusillade that killed his brother. Dustin had stayed on the run for two weeks, living at least part of the time outdoors. But shortly before the press conference, he had finally been persuaded to give himself up and had walked into the Jefferson County jail with his lawyer, Kenneth Padilla.
"I'm just relieved that my son is safe," said Gloria Lopez. "My biggest fear was that the police would approach him the way they did my son, Danny, when he was brutally shot by police...I thank God that Dustin has made the choice, the right choice, to take responsibility for his own actions."
Their father, Danny Ray Lopez Jr., said he'd hugged his remaining son and thanked him for not adding to the family's grief. "The most important thing in my life was for him to surrender."
"My little brother is not the type of person the police are making him out to be," said the boys' sister, Danaia. "He is a kindhearted person who is caring and gentle...We pray the justice system will afford Dustin his right to a fair trial."
To which Padilla added that Dustin was not a violent youth. "This was basically a motor-vehicle theft case that got escalated to this terrible tragedy."
The press conference ended quietly. The press and the family shuffled off in different directions. That night, the city would turn on the Christmas lights at the City and County Building, an event that would rate front-page coverage the next morning while the Lopez story was buried deep inside the newspapers.
To his family, Danny Ray Lopez III would always be a happy, smiling boy. He was born October 1, 1971, at Denver General Hospital, the first child of Gloria and Danny Ray Lopez Jr., and brought home to the little wooden house on Denver's west side.
Danny was almost too friendly. His mother was always getting after him for talking to strangers in the grocery store or on the sidewalks. But there was no stopping him -- it was just the way he was. He was a big Broncos fan and liked to play football with his friends on the school playground across the street. In the summer, it was baseball sponsored by the Police Athletic League. In those days, the police were still the good guys to Danny.