'Justice for Josiah' Vigil Leaves Community with More Questions

Aug 15, 2017

Arcata Community members and Humboldt State University students gather at the Arcata Plaza on Tuesday evening to remember and discuss what can be done to move the case of David Josiah Lawson forward.
Credit Natalya Estrada

It’s been nearly four months and very few  details have been released about the case of David Josiah Lawson, a Humboldt State University student of color who was murdered in April.

Janaee Sykes, who attends HSU said this year is difficult for her and other students of color who just wish their community would support them.  

Humboldt State student Janaee Sykes writes on a poster board at the vigil for David Josiah Lawson on Tuesday evening. Sykes said she met Lawson at school and that he was an inspiration to many.
Credit Natalya Estrada

“We feel like there’s nothing being done for my friend Josiah. He was just such an amazing soul and I’m very grateful that I had the chance to know him. And it breaks my heart and it aches because I really wish that he was still here with us right now," Sykes said.

Holding vigils is what some believe keep this case relevant. For others it’s what holds the city officials accountable, including Arcata Mayor Susan Ornelas.

“It is very difficult. I understand it has been four months and that seems very frustrating to people. I get that. I’m frustrated too," Ornelas said. "I have this picture in my living room and I see it every day. I think about David Josiah every day. I talk to people with the city about it. Our police are holding an open and daily investigative case. I hate that it’s taking so long. I wish we had something but we don’t yet.”

Ornelas, who was open to comments and questions during the vigil, faced some criticism from students of color who felt the city was not acknowledging them and what they could do for the community. Graduate students like Erin Youngblood-Smith called upon people to take action.

“We already lost Josiah, we can’t bring him back. And there’s a lot of pain here. And I’m not yelling at you. I’m yelling at this community to say ‘hello we need to wake up and say we need to change things.’ All of us, all of us together," Youngblood-Smith said. 

HSU graduate student Erin Youngblood-Smith (center) tells the community and city officials about the importance of people of color in Arcata during the 'Justice for Josiah' Vigil on Tuesday evening.
Credit Natalya Estrada

She continued to say that the city needed to use students of color in order to fully understand what they go through on a daily basis in town and that this was not the first time people of color faced violence within Arcata.

“We walk through these streets every day feeling like we don’t belong here.  And so it’s your responsibility to say ‘Hey, these students came here," she said. "They pay their money. They pay their rent. They shop at these stores. They go out to these bars.’ We are just as much of a community here as you are.”

While little details and further information have not been released the city is working with a former FBI agent, who now works as a private investigator and was hired by the Lawson family. According to city officials, the investigator is set to arrive Wednesday and pursue the case.