Vern Landavazo, whose 13-year-old daughter, Lauren, was fatally shot on September 2, has been thinking of his daughter’s last words ever since, as told to him by a nurse at the shooting scene: “My daddy is my pastor.”
Landavazo struggled to ascertain the meaning of the words – he is not a pastor. But while taking a walk last Sunday, it dawned on him that Lauren wanted to deliver a message, one that stemmed from the open-heartedness and spirit of inclusiveness with which she lived her life.
“Her message is to make change,” Landavazo tells PEOPLE. “And to make the only good out of this is to open our hearts, reject divisions. We as human beings spend so much times dividing ourselves with religion and politics and [ethnicity] and [she] rejected those.”
Landavazo tells PEOPLE his faith and community support are helping him get through the tragedy, when Lauren and her friend, Makayla Smith, were shot while walking home from school. Lauren died from gunshot wounds while Makayla was taken to a local hospital where she recovered and was released, authorities tell PEOPLE.
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Two days after the shooting, authorities arrested Kody Lott, 20, who allegedly confessed to the shooting while being questioned, police told PEOPLE.
In his confession, Lott allegedly told authorities he shot the two girls “after talking to the devil,” according to an arrest affidavit obtained by PEOPLE. He allegedly confessed he committed the crime because he was attracted to Lauren and was angry he didn’t have a girlfriend.
“Kody stated he planned the events and was upset the local media called the incident ‘senseless’,” the affidavit continues. “[He] stated the incident wasn’t senseless because he planned and thought it out after talking to the devil about it.”
Lott is charged with one count of murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of possessing a prohibited weapon. He is being held on a $4 million bond. He has not yet entered a plea and has been assigned a public defender, Jim Rasmussen, but PEOPLE was unable to immediately reach Rasmussen.
A ‘Social Butterly’
Landavazo says the outpouring of support his family has received from the community and Lauren’s friends has been overwhelming.
“She was a social butterfly,” Landavazo tells PEOPLE. “She must have known that she had a limited amount of time and she squeezed everything in and that’s the sense you get from anybody that truly knew her.”
Lauren, according to friends, enjoyed spending time with other neighborhood kids and their families.
“Lauren absolutely loved [walking home from school],” Kenya Daughtry, a family friend and neighbor, told PEOPLE. “She was always, always happy.”
Landavazo says, “[Even now] her friends want to come over and have a sleepovers in her room. We thought briefly about moving but how could we possibly leave?”
Forgiving the Suspect’s Parents
Landavazo tells PEOPLE he made a point of contacting Lott’s parents.
“I reached out to his father. I told him who I was and that my family does not blame him,” he says. “No parent ever wants their child to be involved in a tragedy in any way.
Landavazo continues, “I was almost immediately struck with grief for that family. We have tremendous support that those people are not going to get. I ask [the public], on behalf of our family, to please keep that family in your prayers.”
On Sept. 8, Lauren’s funeral took place at a local church. Landavazo says he was touched by the number of people there.
“We know there are dark days ahead, like her birthday in a few weeks,” Landavazo says. “But we have to stay focused [and open] people’s hearts.”