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Slain letter carrier's family speaks out

August 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The family of a letter carrier killed 10 years ago after a shooting at a community center in Granada Hills gathered Monday to remember their loved one.The U.S. flag, the symbol of freedom and equality for all, draped the coffin of Lilian Ileto's son.

The flag was folded the same way it was handed to her 10 years ago at his funeral.

Mail trucks lined the Rose Hills Cemetery. More than 700 mourners paid tribute to 39-year-old Filipino-American postal worker Joseph Santos Ileto.

On August 10, 1999, a hate-fueled gunman attacked the North Valley Jewish community Center, about an hour later he shot Joseph nine times as he was delivering mail along his Chatsworth route. He was filling in for a sick co-worker.

"He was killed because of the color of his skin," said Joseph's brother Ishmael Ileto.

The attacks hit the heart of every community. People felt singled out and unprotected simply because of their religion, race or sexual orientation.

Despite their grief, the Ileto family felt compelled to save others from the poison of hatred and ignorance.

"If we don't voice our opinion and voice what is right, we are never going to get anywhere," said Joseph's sister-in-law Deena Ileto.

Joseph's brother Ishmael, his wife Deena and Joseph's sisters Carmina and Raquel started speaking across the country. White supremacist tried to scare them.

"I received verbal threats on our phone. My family got hate mail," said Ishmael Ileto.

It got so bad, The FBI told them to move, yet they never wavered. They teamed up with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center to promote awareness and create the Joseph Ileto Hate Crimes Prevention Fellowship.

The family lobbied for stronger gun laws and supported legislation that would make it easier to investigate and prosecute hate violence. It's an issue, Ishmael believes threatens the core of our society.

"If we have the best healthcare and the best housing, what good will any of that be if we're all hating and killing off each other?" asked Ishmael Ileto.

"We're all different and that's what makes us all special because we are," said Deena Ileto.

Ten years ago, a self-avowed neo-Nazi tried to unleash a torrent of terror, instead he sparked a movement against bigotry and a legacy of love that will live on in the letters of Joseph Ileto"s name.

Joseph was buried under the symbol of freedom and equality for all. The family hopes someday it will mean "respect" for all.

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