Several photos of the same Latina teen pinned to a board. A door in the background has a sign that says no food or drinks in the theater.

Richmond High Holds Fundraiser Screening of Film About Slain Former Student

Several photos of the same Latina teen pinned to a board. A door in the background has a sign that says no food or drinks in the theater.

A collection of photos of Cecilia “Cecy” Rios hangs outside the theater of Richmond High, where Rios was a student and a film about her death was screened Friday. 

Story and photos by Joe Porrello

Richmond High student Cecilia Rios was killed in 1994 at the age of 15. A  2017 film about her, “Love, Cecy,” was screened at her former school for the first time Friday.

Nine years old and living in Richmond at the time, “Love, Cecy” director Jay Francisco Lopez remembers the impact Rios’ death had on the community.

“I just remember seeing the news, and it was scary because it was a 15-year-old girl raped and murdered in our neighborhood,” he told the Pulse. “In reality, we see it on TV, but when it hits home, it gets more realistic.”

The film tells the story of the last five months of Rios’ life, culminating in the day of her death.

“I wanted the newer generation to know who she was. She was a 15-year-old girl with dreams and aspirations,” Lopez said.

As shown in the film, Rios had plans of joining the Metas program at Contra Costa College — aimed at aiding career success — and becoming a lawyer.

>>>Read: Mother of Slain Teen Runs Nonprofit in Daughter’s Honor

About 60 people were in attendance for the fundraiser screening. Proceeds went to Richmond High along with organizations focused on supporting young women in the community.

Lopez, three actresses and two actors in the film, as well as Rios’ boyfriend at the time of her death, Julio Garcia, answered questions from audience members for about an hour after the film.

Lopez said he always wanted to show the film at Richmond High but never previously had the opportunity.

“It’s long overdue, obviously. I’ve been trying for a while,” he taid. “One of my biggest goals besides getting her story out of Richmond to the world, which I’ve done successfully: I’ve always wanted to have a screening at the school that she went to.”

He believes Rios’ death did not receive adequate media coverage, comparing it to the murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in Petaluma three months prior, which some say altered crime and punishment in America altogether.

Lopez said he thought more people remembered Rios for what happened to her instead of who she was as a person, something he wanted to change. But he wanted the approval of her family before proceeding.

“I went to the cemetery (before meeting her family); I told Cecy, ‘This is it. You got me this far. Now, it’s time for me to prove to your parents that I can do this,’ ” he said, getting choked up.

At first, the Rios family was hesitant about a film being made, wanting her memory to live on amongst themselves. But eventually, they agreed to let Lopez go forward with the film.

“I’m just very blessed and honored that her family and friends were able to accept me,” Lopez said, “a nobody that didn’t know who she was.”


“Love, Cecy,” has been shown in places like Italy, Spain, New York and Miami and won awards.

A local screening of “Love, Cecy,” was held at Contra Costa College in 2018, but it took six years after the film’s release for Richmond High to even respond to Lopez. He credited after-school program site coordinator Valeria Estrada for helping facilitate the event.

“I came to school when Cecy was here, so I was like, ‘Hell, yeah, we’re going to get that screened here’,” Estrada said. “I can’t speak for anybody that turned him down, but I think one of the biggest things is the gang piece attached to it.”

Rios’ killer, later sentenced to life in prison, left a red bandana on her body to try making police believe the murder had gang ties.

Rios’ childhood friend Erica Delgado feels the screening will change the false narrative.

“It’s definitely something I supported because I wanted the story to come out and the stigma to go away that it was gang-related,” Delgado said. “It’s sort of a full-circle moment because before, we weren’t able to play it here at all.”

With Garcia initially arrested and the top suspect in Rios’ murder, many people believed her boyfriend — heavily involved with gang life at the time — committed the crime, according to Estrada. She added that Garcia’s presence Friday made a powerful impact because he serves as an example of someone who turned their life around for the better.

>>>Read: ‘Magic Drive’ for Homeless Held in Memory of Slain Richmond Teen

When asked by an audience member if he ever graduated from high school after seeing him struggling to do so in the film, Garcia confirmed that he had, getting loud applause. He said Rios’ belief in him was a big motivator to get his diploma and that being back at his former school made him nostalgic.

“We used to hang around here in the front when I got here in the morning… when I got here tonight I felt something weird,” he told the Pulse. “I could just picture us: the memories.

A lockbox with keepsakes from Rios that helped him remember her — like the last poem she wrote for him that she never got to personally give him — got stolen from his car years ago.

Rios signed each poem she wrote, “Love, Cecy,” inspiring the film’s title. Many of her poems are featured in the movie, chosen by Lopez out of Rios’ diary.

Delgado says the film does Rios justice through its accuracy and captures her spirit well.

Angie Marie Espinoza, who portrays Rios in the movie, said she had a whirlwind of emotions while filming.

“I felt anxious. I felt privileged, but also a sense of guilt and a sense of hope,” she said.

Lopez said Espinoza and Rios look similar, and Garcia said they even have the same giggle.

Rios’ younger brother, Juanito, plays her older brother in the film. The entire movie is shot in Richmond, and real footage from Rios’ quinceañera and funeral are included — adding to the authenticity.

Garcia noted that he appreciates Lopez’ efforts and the event’s turnout.

“I love the fact that Jay is going around sharing her legacy… I’m glad to see the community come here and want to know more about her even if they didn’t know her,” he said.

Lopez began working on the film in 2012. He has since had Rios’ name tattooed on his inner wrist — which he held up to the audience — and said his 11-year journey of helping honor her will carry on.

“The beauty of it is that it’s not going to stop,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do the best I can in my way to give her the best legacy she deserves; the movie was just a start.”

Lopez, who previously worked in academics, said he wants to proceed somehow with Rios’ story in the educational sphere. Espinoza suggested starting a scholarship fund in Rios’ name.

“Love, Cecy” is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

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