In the days after actress Vanessa Marquez was shot and killed by police during a wellness check at her South Pasadena home, friends left flowers perched next to a palm tree by the sidewalk. It was meant as a gesture to memorialize the film and TV actress and begin to deal with the sadness, confusion and anger left in the wake of her death.
Within hours, the flowers disappeared.
The move roiled Marquez’s friends.On Wednesday night, they gathered in front of the multi-tenant, two-story home on the 1100 Block of Fremont Avenue to bring more flowers and publicly eulogize her, even if unofficially.
“We didn’t know her as an ER actress. We knew her as a person,” said Elizabeth Bell Haynes, a freelance director and longtime friend of Marquez, as she stood near a makeshift memorial of eight bouquets that were placed at the foot of the same palm tree where the original flowers had been laid. “When her television set was broken, we brought one of our TV sets over, that kind of thing. That’s why I am here, to honor the human being, the person, who was very sick and very ill and frail and fragile. I am still just asking questions I want the answers to. How could this happen to somebody so small and helpless?”
Eugene Hutchins, of Altadena, and his wife, Maria Zuccarello, stopped by to pay their respects, too.
Hutchins is a professional arts manager who met Marquez in 2010 when they worked together on the performance of “Anna in the Tropics” by Nilo Cruz at the Sierra Madre Playhouse. Marquez performed in the play as the character Marela. They also worked together in the same playhouse the following year on a performance of “Sylvia,” by A.R. Gurney, in which Marquez played the title role.
Hutchins and Marquez remained friends ever since.
“We came to honor and lift the memory of Vanessa. And keep her in our hearts,” a red-eyed Hutchins said. “That’s why we’re here, to make sure that her spirit knows that we still love her.”
Someone left among the new flowers underneath the giant palm tree a framed sign printed on purple paper. It read: In honor (with love) of all Pasadenans suffering from the physical and mental pain of chronic illness. You are not alone in your isolation. Rest in peace, Vanessa Marquez.”
Someone else laid a small red crucifix on it.
Some of her friends spoke of Marquez’s beautiful spirit, her knack for making friends laugh and for remembering small details about their lives that she considered important. Some shared feelings of guilt, as if they could have done something more to help her. And many shook their heads, attempting to hold judgment against the officers involved in Marquez’s death, yet struggling to reconcile how such a sprite and spirited person like Marquez could meet such a sudden and violent end.
“Vanessa was light. Vanessa was love,” Haynes said. “I hope people don’t make this about an ER actress because every human being and every life deserves to be respected and it wouldn’t matter if it were a homeless person or person of no name, it should be investigated. We should find out what happened. A wellness check should not end up with someone being shot. It just shouldn’t happen.”
No funeral plans have been announced for Marquez. Two law-enforcement investigations of the shooting are underway by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
“It is important that we remember her because she did deserve better,” said Paula Guthat, a friend who lives in Detroit. “I just want people to know that there is so much more to her than how she was killed and her illness, she was a sweet, lovely and talented person who wanted to live.”
Ed E. Haynes, a production designer and former South Pasadena resident who met Marquez in 1989 on the set of the first season of Culture Clash TV, stopped by Marquez’s apartment home Saturday evening to leave flowers by a palm tree near the sidewalk.
“Saddened, annoyed and angry they were removed,” Haynes said Wednesday. “We are not going to let this be forgotten. We are not going to forget.”
Guthat, a movie theater owner in Detroit, struck up a relationship with Marquez five years ago when the “Stand by Me” and “ER” actress became a member of the Turner Classic Movie Tweet-party club.
“When she first joined, we thought it was a fan posing as Vanessa,” Guthat said. “But it was her. And after a while, you forgot she was such a big Hollywood star; she was just so sweet.”
Like many of Marquez’s friends, Guthat rejects any notion that Marquez — who police say pulled what appeared to be a semi-automatic gun before being shot — had wanted to die. The gun was later identified as a BB-type gun, according to Lt. Joe Mendoza, of the LA Sheriff’s homicide bureau.
Marquez, who was a prolific on social media, had posted on her Facebook page that she was battling autoimmune disorder Celiac Disease and Fibromyalgia. She confided in friends that she also lived with chronic pain and depression that left her more often in recent times confined to her one-bedroom apartment.
The final days of Marquez’s life straddled extremes: She posted on Facebook on August 29 about the return of seizures, enduring what she described as a “cloister of them.” She also talked to friends about wanting to buy a makeup kit that was set to go on sale that weekend, and she desperately hoped to make it to the John Williams concert at the Hollywood Bowl on August 31.
Marquez died on Aug. 30.
“Another mutual friend was making plans to visit Vanessa soon,” Guthat said. “My point is, she was not suicidal. She wanted to live and she had hope that eventually she would be getting better.”
South Pasadena City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe has asked residents and friends to be patient and reserve judgements about what happened on the day Marquez was shot and killed until the investigations have concluded. DeWolfe has asserted that she believes South Pasadena police “officers acted appropriately under a tragic set of circumstances.”
Police say the shooting happened shortly before 2 p.m. on Thursday, after Marquez’s landlord called to report that she appeared to be in some kind of trouble. Because of previous visits to Marquez’s home, police called in a mental health specialist to help.
According to the official timeline provided by police, authorities were on hand for 90 minutes prior to the shooting. In that time, they say, Marquez was both “uncooperative” and suffering seizures.
Marquez was shot in the torso at the landing of the stairs in the home. She was rushed to nearby Huntington Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
At the time of her death, Marquez’s health problems had left her down to 82 pounds.
A witness who was at an appointment in an office across the street saw police carry Marquez from her home onto a stretcher on the porch. She watched as one officer pumped Marquez’s chest multiple times before covering the body with a blanket.
“I thought she was a child; she was so small,” said Kate Samhat, of Pasadena.
Among the evidence investigators are poring over is body camera footage of officers on the scene at the time, said South Pasadena public information officer John Pope. It is not clear if or when that footage may be made public.
Current California law allows police to withhold body camera footage to protect an ongoing investigation. However, the California Legislature last week passed a bill, Assembly Bill 748, that would require law-enforcement agencies to make video and audio taken by police public within 45 days of a “critical incident,” including a police-involved shooting. The bill would also allow police to withhold video release for up to a year if doing so would harm an investigation.
The bill has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, who must sign or veto it within 12 days or it becomes law by default.
Some friends of Marquez are trying to give police the benefit of the doubt, given that police say the actress displayed what appeared to be a semi-automatic gun.
Shortly before her death, Marquez posted on Facebook that she had paid $28 for a BB-style gun, a Smith and Wesson replica.
In recent months, Marquez told friends she feared for her safety and complained about someone entering her home when she was away, including at least once while she was in the emergency room of a local hospital. Friends also say Marquez was having an ongoing dispute with her landlord and feared eviction.
Wednesday’s gathering in front of Marquez’s home was another step in trying to make sense of the tragedy.
“The vigil is very important,” said Towles Canote, a friend of Marquez who lives in Missouri. “Vanessa was a talented, sweet, generous and vibrant woman who had a sense of humor even when facing a terminal illness. She deserves to be remembered for the wonderful woman she was and not for her tragic end.”