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Candles and balloons outside the home of Miguel Estrella, who was shot and killed by police on March 25.

With Investigation Underway, Community Responds to Death of Miguel Estrella

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Family, friends, and community members are mourning the loss of 22-year-old Miguel Estrella, who was killed by police who said he was in a state of distress while wielding a knife on March 25.

A march and vigil for Estrella is planned for Sunday at 4 p.m., when marchers will walk from Columbus Avenue to City Hall and the police station to demand answers about the young man's death, before continuing to the district attorney's office and then Park Square. 

His mother Marisol Estrella and sister Elina Estrella will lead the speakers at Park Square. 

"I want to extend my deepest condolences to Miguel's family and friends, I know and see that they are heartbroken by this tragic and traumatic event, he had many friends and many people who loved him and I'm so very sorry for their loss," Mayor Linda Tyer said to iBerkshires a few days after the event.

"There is an investigation underway and part of that early process for me was to meet with [District Attorney Andrea Harrington] and with [Police Chief Michael Wynn] to understand to the best of my ability, all the elements of what happened, and so I can't, for obvious reasons, speak in any detail because it's currently under investigation."

"I think that there will be opportunities for us to, at the conclusion of this investigation, to understand in a much more factual way what happened."

Following Estrella's death, various entities have taken to Facebook to respond to the situation that is still under investigation.

State Sen. Adam Hinds knew the young man personally, as he started a program for kids getting involved in or at risk of getting involved violence. In a video post, he spoke of an urgent need to rethink the city's systems.

"As has been reported widely and publicly, Miguel struggled with serious mental health episodes and he was working through those issues, and when Miguel previously experienced a crisis, it was often one of these outreach workers who he or his girlfriend called, it literally saved his life multiple times in the past but on that night, outreach workers were not available and this is in addition to the co-responders who are not available, either," Hinds said.

"And I wanted to draw this out because it's an indirect example for me of when the state and when the city were providing alternative responses it has worked, it saved his life, and when it was not available, the wellness check during a mental health episode moved away from counselors and there was a tragic outcome.

"Here's the thing, I think no one is happy with our current systems and how they work, for example, police officers I speak with will express frustration that more and more is being put at their feet related to mental health crises and more so it's clear to me that we have to urgently rethink our systems, we have to be open to doing this work together, asking the tough questions and being committed to identify the model that we can all get behind."

The Berkshire County chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Health this week released a statement by Executive Director Melissa Helm saying "no one should have to lose their life because they are experiencing a mental health crisis."
Helm said the outcome was a tragedy for all involved and pointed to a deficiency in mental health services in the region. 
"While not commenting on the specifics of this case which is currently under investigation, NAMI BC believes more intensive training of law enforcement in addition to more mental health crisis response services are needed to combat this trend," she wrote, adding that the organization has been working with Berkshire Community College and Berkshire County Sheriff's Department to establish regular crisis intervention trainings for law enforcement.

In a post, Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell pointed to Estrella's physical size and race, which he said represented a threat to the police.

"Clearly, what they saw was a person of color, large in size, which and unfortunately, the color of his skin represented a threat to the officers," Powell said.

"It is inconceivable that these officers did not realize that this young man was in crisis and needed help."

The post also shared a quote from Estrella's sister, who highlighted her brother's kind demeanor and his struggle with mental illness.

"Miguel Angel, was a kind, caring, beautiful soul. He would give anyone words of encouragement, advice, and the shirt off of his back if need be. He was battling against life's tribulations and those close enough knew his toughest battle with his mental health. Something he's been dealing with from such a young age into his early adulthood," she said in the post.

"He worked on his issues as much as he could, he had support, whether it was from his friends, family, girlfriend, outreach community mentors, and/or therapists. He even had a therapy dog name Chanel, but it just wasn't enough. A life cut short when all he needed was help. My little, big brother was taken too young. He deserved a second chance. He deserved more and most importantly he didn't deserve to die the way that he did. Please assist us with bringing awareness to this tragedy. To make a difference on how mental health is treated."

The Pittsfield Farmer's Market said  he was a crew member at the market in 2016 and he also volunteered for Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

"More than that, Miguel was a son, a brother, and a friend," the post read.

"Miguel's death on Friday night represents the loss of a member of our community and a systemic failure of our moral obligation to care for each other in times of need. Miguel's death was preventable. We must do better, both for our youth and for our community."

His family started a GoFundMe fundraiser to raise awareness of the tragedy and help raise resources to make a difference in how mental health is treated, the page says.

It has surpassed its original goal of $20,000 by raising over $20,500.

On Friday, March 25, at approximately 9:46 p.m., police officers were dispatched to the 279 Onota St. for an initial report that a man had cut himself and was outside of his residence.

County Ambulance also responded and Estrella declined emergency medical services for a self-inflicted laceration on his face around 10:06 p.m. He was left in the care of his girlfriend and, within minutes, another 911 call came in reporting that Estrella was in distress again.

Police and County Ambulance returned at about 10:10 and according to the DA's Office, an eyewitness account confirmed that Estrella had a knife in his hands when police were there. According to the report, Estrella advanced on the officers and they attempted two taser deployments that were unsuccessful.

Following this, one officer fired their duty sidearm, striking Estrella twice. The name of the officer who fired the fatal shots has not yet been released and both the responding officers are on administrative leave.

One of the mental health and substance abuse co-responders with the department had been on duty until about 8:30 that night. The State Police Detective Unit is conducting the investigation. 

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RSVP of Berkshire County Meet-and-Greet

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Berkshire County will host a meet-and-greet event 1-3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, 16 Bartlett Ave.
"This is an opportunity for us to share with members of the public the exciting work that we're doing in the city of Pittsfield and throughout Berkshire County," said RSVP Director Lisa Torrey. "Also, for those who may be interested in joining RSVP, this is a great time to learn more."
Refreshments will also be available.
RSVP is a national organization funded in part by AmeriCorps Seniors. It is sponsored locally by the city of Pittsfield. RSVP provides recruitment, training, and placement of persons 55 years of age and older as volunteers. There are currently 5,000 host agencies in 50 states, with more than 400,000 volunteers.
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