Tragedy sparks unlikely action Summerville couple stops access road

Pearl and Homer Gonzalez of Summerville smile as they recall the memories of Homer’s son, Edward Michael Gonzalez, who was shot and killed at his home in Jacksonville, Fla., on Aug. 1. The Gonzalezes said working to keep the Weatherstone neighborhood safe was a form of therapy for them to help them cope with the loss of their son.

SUMMERVILLE — Homer Gonzalez went numb on the sofa as he listened to the voice on the phone in August. His younger son, Edward Gonzalez, had been shot dead.

“I freaked out,” Gonzalez says. “He was 34 years old” when he was killed. Edward was a store manager, with a wife and two daughters he doted on. He had been shot six times in the face by an enraged man whose wife worked for Gonzalez.

Fortunately, Homer Gonzalez has Pearl. Pearl Gonzalez helped her husband through the funeral in Jacksonville, Fla., kept him strong when he was on the verge of breaking down. Then they came home and tried to sleep.

“After a bout of insomnia,” she said, “I thought, what can I do to help?”

The Gonzalezes are the couple who this month launched a massive petition drive and protest among their Weatherstone neighbors, an effort that convinced Summerville Mayor Bill Collins not to extend a dead-end spur road leading from their subdivision past crime-troubled neighborhoods to U.S. Highway 78.

What they did was remarkable. Why they did it is heartwrenching.

They had never taken an activist role before. They were a newer couple in the 750-home subdivision, and they were so unversed in town politics that they had to figure out how to get to Town Hall.

They did it for Edward.

The Gonzalezes are a lot alike. Both kid easily, but get emotional just as easily. Tears well their eyes when they talk about Edward. She is not Edward’s mother; the couple have been married only a short while. But she pushed the petition drive maybe more fervently than he did. Because he needed to get involved in something to help people fight crime, as a sort of therapy, she said.

“It was a way to tell our neighbors that we care,” she said.

Their neighbors heard.

“My family and all the residents owe Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez a debt of gratitude for all the work they did,” said Tiffany Hogue, who had worried about through traffic in a place where it’s an everyday thing for children to play along the streets.

Asked why he married Pearl, Homer Gonzalez struggles for words.

“She’s ... perfect,” he says. Asked why she married him, Pearl Gonzalez lights up.

“He’s loving. He’s sweet. ...” Then she gets thoughtful. “After all we’ve been through and yet he’s still able to laugh.”

The couple rallied nearby neighbors on Avonshire Drive, then, with a few of the neighbors, worked their way up and down the subdivision streets, petitions and then reminders in hand. They knocked on nearly every door and brought more than 400 signatures to Town Hall, along with a large group of residents.

The Gonzalezes have carried on with the effort by opening a Nextdoor private social network to act as an electronic neighborhood crime watch. More than 70 neighbors have joined so far. On it, Pearl Gonzalez posts safety-related news — the neighbor chased by a man living in the woods, the neighbor who reached into a bag of dirt and found a copperhead.

When the Gonzalezes launched the petition drive, the Summerville council already had voted to open the access road; it was a done deal.

The road then got undone. And Homer Gonzalez didn’t, he realizes now.

“I didn’t sit down and dwell on (the death). It worked. It worked,” he says of their local efforts. Then he looks at the wall for a moment. “Sometimes it’s harder. It’ll never go away. It’ll never go away.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744