LANCASTER – Nearly 60 residents and community leaders gathered Wednesday evening at the Antelope Valley courthouse to empower fellow survivors of sexual assault while preventing further victims in the High Desert community.
The prayer and vigil event was organized in reaction to a Santa Clara County judge’s conditional release of the “Pillowcase Rapist” Christopher Hubbart to an Antelope Valley residence.
Marked by prayers, testimony and a renewed sense of camaraderie, members of the community sought assurance and unity through a shared concern: that the release of a sexual predator into their neighborhood would not leave them helpless.
“I’m not here to talk about this gentleman. He’s gotten enough attention already. I’m here to talk about survivors, not victims, but survivors of sexual assault,” Denise Latanzi, executive director of United Desert Charities, told members of the community who had gathered for the Sunset Prayer & Candlelight Vigil event.
Latanzi said that women in the Antelope Valley “stand a much bigger chance of being a victim of sexual assault” anywhere in Los Angeles County.
“It’s an unfortunate fact; it’s something we have to deal with,” she said. “So this really isn’t about one predator, this is about more than 600 sexual offenders located up here, who unfortunately sometimes create survivors.”
Joanne Granai, who organized the community action for Antelope Valley residents, described Wednesday’s prayer gathering as a final bid for a miracle.
“All we have to go on at this point … is to come together in prayer as an entire community. Miracles can happen,” Granai said in her invitation to the Lancaster City Council at Tuesday’s meeting. “I know that our community leaders are doing everything in their power to not let this happen. We’re all in agreement.”
At Wednesday’s event, Palmdale Mayor Pro Tem Tom Lackey told participants of the vigil what local leadership was doing about the impending release of Christopher Hubbart.
“What we’re trying to do is just do the best we can to communicate with the judicial system,” Lackey said. “And because of the efforts of people like yourself, gathering letters of support … (we’re) trying to show the judge what we believe is an injustice. They have a responsibility to rule in favor of the people, and I think they are missing that opportunity if they place this gentleman out here in our area.”
Lackey assured people at the gathering that both Palmdale and Lancaster were united in the effort to stop Hubbart from being relocated to the Antelope Valley, while adding that “Senator Knight and Assemblyman Fox all agree that this is an injustice in our area.”
Palmdale-resident Vladimir Gomez talked to people at the vigil about his online petition at www.change.org, which has received more than 2,200 signatures.
The online petition includes an extensive background on Hubbart, stating he has “admitted (to) raping approximately 40 women between 1971 and 1982, (and) will tentatively be housed at 20315 E. Ave R Palmdale, Ca 93591. The residence has a Palmdale mailing address, but the house is actually located in the community of Lake Los Angeles.”
Gomez told the Antelope Valley Times that his petition is not only concerned with government officials treating the Antelope Valley as a dumping ground for criminals, but that the immediate safety of residents is at stake.
“The thing is there are many kids who walk in that area, getting to school, waiting for buses to arrive, and we don’t want anyone, not children or women, to become another victim of this man,” Gomez said.
However, addressing legal actions needed to stop Hubbart’s placement in the Antelope Valley was overshadowed by the intended purpose of the event – which was to unite the community through prayer, according to Granai.
Pastor Gary Johnson of the Palmdale-based “Empowered Church Los Angeles” emphasized the need for the community to make sound decisions regarding Hubbart’s release.
“We just ask for sound wisdom and understanding, and we ask that you touch every community leader’s heart, that you touch every city official’s heart, everyone that is involved to come up with the right decision and the right wisdom that we need to handle this in the way that it needs to be handled,” Johnson said, leading participants in prayer at the event.
Pastor Jacob D.R. Johnson of the Growing Valley Baptist Church in Lancaster offered a different spiritual perspective, advocating humility over judgment.
“The only reason I pray to Him is because I have committed some offenses, and I am always reminded of Romans 5:8 that says, ‘But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,'” Johnson told listeners before leading them in prayer.
At the end of the event, Latanzi told participants of the vigil that several community resources are available to assist anyone who has experienced sexual assault, as well as social or domestic violence.
She said that Valley Oasis Sexual Assault Response Services in Lancaster offers services such as emergency shelter, transitional housing, and a rape crisis center.
Sexual Assault Response Services are located at the Antelope Valley Hospital, 1600 West Avenue J in Lancaster. Call 661-723-7273 for more information. Latanzi also said people may contact her United Desert Charities office at 661-224-9365 for additional information on services in the community.
“This is a huge issue up here, and it’s going to take a whole community to stop it and change our circumstances up here,” Latanzi said. “But let’s not be victims of this guy; let’s be survivors, and let’s teach other people to be survivors, too.”