Both in life and in death, Otilio “Nico” Martinez’s ability to bring levity to serious situations has shined through, often via the immense power of his electric smile.
On Thursday, a memorial bench to the beloved 18-year-old — who was fatally shot in front of Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church at 5150 Bayview Ave. in September of last year — was placed at his burial site at St. Joseph Cemetery in San Pablo.
As of this writing, no one has been prosecuted in connection with Martinez’s murder. However, there are reasons for optimism in the wake of his tragic death.
The killing of Martinez, who was described by friends and family as a fun-loving optimist known for putting others’ needs before his, had threatened at the time to launch a race war between members of the local black and Latino communities. Instead, Bonnie Jackson, whose family run the church, joined forces with Martinez’s grieving family and friends to unify the community.
“Because of where [Nico] was killed…it was in front of a baptist church,” Jackson said. “When it happened, word was it was supposed to go black against brown. But it didn’t happen. God stepped in, stepped up. Nico was shining from the other side. When it came to the races, it didn’t explode. There was people there mediating, hugging, loving on each other. There was no chance to throw fists, to cuss anyone out or argue. We were coming together because of Nico Martinez.”
That Nico’s good nature could continue to shine beyond his death is no surprise to his family and friends, who said they could always count on Nico to make them smile and see the positive side of life in the most challenging situations.
“He could be having the worst day, and you couldn’t tell. He was always in good spirits and smiling,” his mother Josie Martinez said. “He really did leave such a positive imprint on everybody’s hearts. He was the type of young man who would jump in front of a person to save a life.”
Loved ones are hopeful that whoever is responsible for Martinez’s death will be arrested, prosecuted and held accountable. A close friend of his said Wednesday it is “sad and really infuriating” that there has been no justice, and thus no closure for his family.
However, Martinez’s memory will live beyond a cemetery. According to his family and Jackson, the city has plans to place a memorial plaque at the site of his death to symbolize a community that chose to bond rather than divide over the tragedy.
“It’s an acknowledgment of his tragedy bringing the community together in a positive way,” Josie Martinez said. “He really did leave such a positive imprint on everyone’s hearts. Even people who didn’t get to meet him, just by the photos, videos, they feel like they really did know him. He just had an amazing spirit and soul and you can see that here.”