SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The oldest daughter of the Utah soccer referee who died Saturday a week after a teenage player punched him in the head hopes to forgive the young man who did it — but not yet.
“I will, but not today; it’s too soon,” said Johana Portillo, 26, speaking Sunday night at a vigil to honor her father, Ricardo Portillo. “He was a father, he was a friend, he was a grandfather; he left a whole family behind. They should think before they do something stupid.”
Police have accused a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league of punching Ricardo Portillo, 46, after he called a foul on him and issued him a yellow card.
Portillo died Saturday night after a week in a coma.
Nearly 100 family and friends gathered at a candlelight vigil Sunday night on the front lawn of the Salt Lake City home of Ricardo Portillo. Wearing white shirts and holding signs that read, “In loving memory of Ricky,” family and friends stood around a table that had a picture of Portillo raising his arms in victory, with flowers and candles surrounding it.
The suspect, whose name is withheld because he’s a minor, has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Authorities will consider additional charges since Portillo has passed away. An autopsy is planned. No cause of death was released.
Johana Portillo said Sunday she doesn’t care what punishment the teenager gets — saying nothing will bring her father back.
“When he did that, he took a part of me with him,” she said, crying. “He took my daddy away from me.”
She added: “I feel sorry for him. I feel for his family. But if he was old enough to do what he did, then he’s responsible to pay for it.”
Pedro Lopez, his brother-in-law and a fellow soccer referee, said the teenager made a mistake and isn’t solely to blame. He said he’s been involved in soccer his entire life, playing and refereeing, and seen a troubling trend emerge.
“It’s not the ignorance of the child, it’s the poor manners of the parents,” said Lopez in Spanish, who played soccer professionally. “The yells and insults from the sideline from the parents make kids more violent.”
Lopez, Johana Portillo and youth soccer coach James Yapias called on athletes around the world to hold their tempers in check so another family doesn’t have to suffer — and to bring something positive from Ricardo Portillo’s death.
Yapias, a longtime friend of Ricardo Portillo coach in the same league, said coaches and parents need to do a better job teaching children about sportsmanship and being non-violent. He also called for more police presence at games. Portillo’s death is a reminder that life can change in a second, he said.
“We all love this sport,” Yapias said. “But we all need to respect the rules.”
Johana Portillo said she hopes her father’s death leads to more security at sporting events and better self-control from players. She said her father had been attacked by players twice before in his eight years refereeing soccer matches — even having his ribs and legs broken.