Friends gather to remember slain family

A vigil in remembrance of a family killed one year ago brought hugs and shared memories for family members, friends and co-workers of Dr. Amanda Crews.

Roughly 45 people, some still in scrubs and nurses’ uniforms, came to Standiford Park in north Modesto for the event. They formed a circle to recall the lives of the respected Modesto physician, 38; her daughters, 6-month-old Rachael Martinez and 6-year-old Elizabeth Ripley.

Also killed July 18, 2015, were her boyfriend’s mother and niece, Anna Brown Romero, 57, and 5-year-old Esmeralda Navarro. The boyfriend, Martin Martinez, will return to court next month to face charges in their deaths, as well as the death of Crews’ 2-year-old son Christopher Ripley in October 2014.

“We have them for the while that we have them. It’s great to see all of you here because you feel some fondness and friendship for them,” said Kate Kearns, one of Crews’ physician partners.

“I got the pleasure of watching her grow from a brand-new medical student graduate all the way through residency. Really was no work at all because she was so awesome,” said Erin Kiesel, Crews’ adviser in residency. “She harbored that love of people, wanting to help, wanting to heal people from the minute she arrived.”

Kiesel and Kearns, partners in the family practice where Crews worked, organized the vigil.

“I think about her a lot when I’m having a bad day. When I’m feeling frustrated at work, and I think about what a positive attitude she had all the time in the face of all the things that had gone on in the last few years. She never dragged that in to what she was doing with patients,” Kiesel said.

Crews had wanted to be a doctor since she was a child, her identical twin sister, Kimberly Crews, recalled shortly after her sister’s death. Kimberly Crews recited a short poem at the vigil, mourning her sister but adding she can “face each day with hope and happy memories.”

Several people wore T-shirts from the Dr. Amanda Crews Run for Health, a long-standing 5K and 10K run she participated in that raises money for “Reach Out and Read.” This year’s run April 30 was renamed in her honor.

“It was always a fairly attended race, not too big,” said fellow physician Tom Wenstrup. “This year it blossomed into this wonderful event,” he said, with so many more runners and sponsors joining in memory of Crews.

“She was an awesome runner. Everyone was just trying figure out how to make something good out of what happened,” Kiesel said.

Crews loved music, friends recalled, and some of her favorite tunes played while co-workers lit candles to hand around to the crowd.

It was a trait shared by her daughter Elizabeth, whose teachers from her early kindergarten class at Sherwood Elementary joined the gathering.

“Her dad taught her a song so she could remember how to spell her name,” Tam Faukner said. Elizabeth always sat up front. She loved stories and loved to dance, said Faukner and co-teacher Kim Wach.

“It’s so hard to lose a student. So young,” Wach said. Elizabeth attended Standiford Elementary, which is next to the park, the next year.

Occasional babysitter, Caydin Sablan, 17, and her mother, Verna Sablan, remembered Elizabeth as an avid jui jitsu student, less fond of her ballet lessons, who loved purple. Caydin saw Elizabeth the day before she died, her mother said.

“It was just total disbelief,” Verna Sablan said.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin