If you’re a parent, any story about a terrible crime involving a child takes you to a dark, dark place: What if that had been my family? How would I go on? In the case of Danielle Bologna, who lost her husband and two sons—half her family—in a burst of gang-related violence in June 2008, the devastating crime that ripped apart her life was just the start of the horrific things that have happened to her over the past three and a half years.
There was the allegation that the accused shooter, Edwin Ramos, was in the U.S. illegally at the time of the killings—and that San Francisco juvenile justice officials had shielded him from deportation despite his criminal record. There was the way Danielle became swept up in the ugly battles over illegal immigration and San Francisco’s sanctuary law—exploited by the right wing, isolated and abandoned by the left, misunderstood by all. There were the many delays in Ramos’s murder trial, which left Danielle and her surviving son and daughter at grave risk of retribution by the gang Ramos allegedly belonged to, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), aka “the most dangerous gang in the world.” And finally, there was the stunning discovery that at the time of the Bologna killings, Ramos and the San Francisco branch of MS-13 were under federal investigation—indeed, that the long-running U.S. probe, Operation Devil Horns, may actually have worsened the climate of gang violence that led to the murders.
How could Danielle Bologna survive all of that? It’s a question that’s haunted me for the past year, as I’ve gotten to know this remarkable woman and helped her untangle her incredible story. (See “No Sanctuary for Danielle Bologna,” November 2011) Here’s what I think it comes down to: Danielle did it for family—for the ones she lost, for the ones who remain, for the extended community that she had to give up along with everything else after the murders, for all the other mothers and fathers whose lives have been ripped apart by gang violence and wrong-headed criminal justice policies that put communities at risk. She’s an amazing wife and mother—fierce, loving, stubborn, strong, determined to honor her dead husband and sons, committed to showing her two remaining children that, as she told me once, “you can have terrible things happen to you and still come out OK.”
On Monday, January 23, after many delays, Ramos’s murder trial will finally begin in San Francisco. One last time, Danielle and her children will have to live through the worst thing that could ever happen to a family. It will be painful beyond imagining. She and the kids will come through it. But it will be so hard. I know San Francisco will be rooting for her. We may not have done a very good job of showing it, but here’s the truth: Danielle Bologna is our hero.