Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

Gasping for Air: Letter from Devan Kaney to Kathryn Steinle

Devan Kaney head shot

A letter from Devan Kaney (pictured)

July 1, 2015

Dear Kathryn,

I want you to know that your death wasn’t for nothing. Your death did not go unnoticed like so many before you. Your death, though horrible and unfair, has sparked a national conversation.

I’m sure you noticed the racial tension building in our country before your death. I don’t know if you want to be a part of that conversation. I know I certainly don’t feel comfortable talking about what happened in Baltimore or Ferguson or any of the other places where racial-driven tragedy struck.

But Kathryn, whether you like it or not, you are a part of the conversation now.

You were murdered by a man who was in this country illegally. He had been deported five times before. I don’t know how that makes you feel—it doesn’t make the situation any better or worse. I just thought you should know.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is in the United States illegally. He said he was in San Francisco looking for work. Most people think he was just there because of its liberal immigration laws. Your killer had been convicted of seven felonies before he pulled the trigger on you.

Lopez-Sanchez is to stand trial for first-degree murder. He is pleading not guilty.

I am sure you are quite confused about what happened, so I will tell you what I know.

On the evening of July 1, you and your father were walking arm-in-arm on Pier 14 of the Embarcadero in San Francisco when a bullet struck you in the back. You were rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Your killer said he found the gun wrapped in a shirt on the ground. He said he accidentally fired it. He said he didn’t know he had shot anyone.

The gun turned out to have been stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management vehicle.

I’m sure you want to know how your killer—a convicted felon and illegal immigrant—was free to walk around in the United States.

San Francisco is a sanctuary city. Meaning the city shelters people who are in the country illegally.

Your shooting triggered a national debate over immigration after it was revealed that the Sheriff's Department had released Lopez-Sanchez despite a federal request to detain him for deportation.

Your death has reinvigorated calls for stricter immigration enforcement from citizens and right-wing politicians.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has used your death to take a strong stance against weak immigration policies. That is something not everyone is happy about, including your brother, Brad.

He went on national news and told politicians like Trump to stop sensationalizing your death. He asked us to stop using you as a way to score political points and stereotype Latinos. I think you would be proud of your brother.

The House of Representatives passed a bill that will curb funding for sanctuary cities. Your father testified at the hearing and was a large part of the final decision.

I don’t know if you blame immigration laws, or San Francisco, or the government, or Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, or nothing or nobody at all.  But I want you to know that your father is fighting for you. He is urging lawmakers to consider making to changes to our country’s immigration laws so the pain he feels from your absence doesn’t happen to anybody else.

What happened to you wasn’t your fault. You were so young, and everything you have worked for, everyone you have loved and touched throughout your life was taken from you in an instant. What happened to you is not fair, and I am so deeply sorry.

With love,

Devan Kaney

Devan Kaney (MA '16) is a broadcast journalism student in the Journalism and Public Affairs program.
For more information:,