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This wasn't the Miguel they knew. Friends describe the Pittsfield man shot by police as 'not just a statistic' but a man working toward his dreams

PITTSFIELD — Miguel Angel Estrella, the 22-year-old aspiring tradesman shot and killed a week ago by Pittsfield police, will be buried Saturday after an invitation-only funeral.

On Friday afternoon, people came through a Pittsfield funeral home to say goodbye to the man they knew as "Miggy."

In time, a report will render the official judgment as to whether Pittsfield police were justified in shooting Estrella twice in the chest late March 25 outside his home in the Bartlett School Apartments on Onota Street, after twice being called to reports of a distraught man with a knife. Estrella was in obvious distress after drinking and had been cutting himself.

People who knew and loved Estrella can’t believe his life ended this way.

Estrella’s sister, Elina, has started a crowdfunding campaign in her brother’s memory, dubbed "Long Live Miggy." On it, she writes: “Miguel was a big part of his community. He was loved by many, he had so many plans. It’s a tragedy that could have been prevented. … Everyone involved who failed him in his time of need will feel their wrongdoing.”

woman wearing justice for miggy sweatshirt

Many mourners arrived on April 1 in shirts and sweatshirts bearing the slogan, "Justice for Miggy," during calling hours for Miguel Estrella at Devanny-Condron Funeral Home in Pittsfield.

“Mental health crisis should not be a death sentence,” she wrote. Estrella is also survived by his mother, Marisol Estrella, and a brother, Jean Carlos, as well as his girlfriend, Daneya Falwell.

For the past week, Estrella’s friends, mentors and co-workers have struggled to speak of him in the past tense, as they shared stories about a person they describe as warm-hearted, playful, generous, respectful and community-minded.

His closest friends, when asked what people should know about Estrella’s life, said this: “Your past doesn’t define you.”

Here are some of their stories.

Robert Jefferson, a former outreach worker for the Pittsfield Community Connection program who had known Estrella for years and once had temporary custody of him:

He was like my kid. I spent more time with him than I did my own kid. Up until recently, you know, he still called me every day. He was a good kid. He's just misunderstood a lot of the time. People like him get swept under the rug a lot. They forget about who they are and what they need — stuff like that.

Even in trouble, I was the go-to. I’d just go with him to hell and back. And I'd go back with him. He shouldn't be gone right now. That's a fact. I just wish, I'd had enough time to get to him. But unfortunately, I didn't.

Debbie Vall, a community member and friend of Estrella:

He was going to be going to McCann [Technical School in North Adams] this year because he wanted to be an electrician. That has been his dream for as long as I can remember.

He's not just a statistic. He's just not another Hispanic man. He is a person. He had hopes and he had dreams and he had plans for his future. And he was going after those plans with full force. He had faced a lot of adversity and he had a lot of barriers, a lot of barriers. But he struggled and he was always smiling.

Miguel Estrella speaks about his work on a Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity job site. 

Tayshia Hoisington is the sister of Estrella’s girlfriend, Daneya Falwell:

When I first met Miggy, oh my god was he loud! I looked at my sister, like, “Who is this?” But my family learned to love him, like they all love him. He comes around every single holiday. He made my family laugh.

Miggy was hands down the funniest person. You could be in the worst mood and he'll find something to just light you up. What I'm gonna miss the most is every single morning him and my sister used to wake me up just laughing about nothing – about nothing.

When I first first met him, all I did was shake my head. He had a lot of energy. But as years went by, I've seen him grow a whole lot. The Miggy we know to this day, that was not him a couple years ago. Like he's changed a lot for the better. He had a plan, a set goal, and he was ready to move forward. Which is why he motivated me a lot.

He realized he's getting older and he wants to accomplish things. He was working really hard, even with my sister, and helping motivate her. He was taken away too soon.

Daneya Falwell, who lived with Estrella as his girlfriend, said he had been suffering from depression:

Everything he's been through, losing a lot of friends. He was talking about losing his friends. He wasn't happy. He just struggled with a lot. He wasn't hurting anybody at all. He wasn't a threat to nobody ... but himself.

We were going to buy a house. We were going to have a vacation in May. We can't do none of that. He was my future. He helped me get a job. He said even if you don’t, I got the bills, don't worry about it. … He had just started living.

Tayshia Hoisington and Daneya Falwell1.jpg (copy)

Tayshia Hoisington, left, and Daneya Falwell speak this week about the late Miguel Estrella, 22, who was shot and killed by a Pittsfield police officer on Friday. Falwell and Estrella lived together. "We were going to buy a house. We were going to have a vacation in May. We can't do none of that. He was my future," Falwell said. 

Carolyn Valli, CEO of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, where Estrella worked after graduating from a construction training program:

We all know him in many-faceted ways. And all of them are good.

I've known him for over seven years. He has gone through ups and downs, but every single time there's been a down, he's come to me and said, “I'm going through this" or "I'm going through that." "What do you think about this?” And he's always been resilient and putting together a plan about how to overcome that.

​​About six months ago, he was just going to pick somebody up at his house and his car got shot up. They called the police. Miguel told me this firsthand. He said, “The first thing [the police] said to me is, ‘Miguel, we thought you got out of that life.’ And he said ‘I'm not in that life.’” He was the one who was victimized, yet he was being villainized. I can only imagine if that bias came to the site [of the shooting] on Friday.

I tried calling the police department [at the time] and their big concern was, “Can you get him to tell us who did it?” And he was like, “I won't do that.” Because we all know what that means in the street, that means you will be dead.

So he was not going to do that. He came to me probably two weeks later, because he kept hearing from whoever it was that shot up the car. He said [the shooter] was going to go to [a Habitat work site] one day. And he said to me, “I can't put you guys at risk. I didn't do anything wrong, but I'm not gonna have any of you die.” Because, you know, that's the person he was – that he cared more about other people than he did for his own safety.

When I got the call [that he'd been shot], I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't understand how if somebody was self-harming themselves, why you didn't take them and bring them to Jones [the psychiatric department at Berkshire Medical Center]. That's the piece that I don't get at all.

They're saying that he was advancing on police. I absolutely do not believe that. Because that is not who he is.

Gail Krumpholz, a community member who has known Estrella since he was young:

What a wonderful human being this young man was; his life was cut too short. We want to make sure, all of us, that he is presented as the wonderful human being that we all knew, and were working with, from the age of 15 or 16 years old.

Wolman and dog visit memorial

Tayshia Hoisington visits a memorial for Miguel Estrella outside his 279 Onota St. apartment with Estrella’s dog, Chanel, a mixed terrier puppy. Estrella was shot by police outside the apartment March 25 while holding a knife. 

Kendell Thompson, a friend of Estrella:

He overcame a lot of adversity. You know, since he was 14, he changed his life around a lot. He got his GED. Went on to a program out in Boston. Got his life together. Came back here. He got himself together and did great things. He was a great human being. He didn't deserve that.

Always did good things for others – and the community. He did good for his community. He'd pick up community service at the schools. Always paid rent for his mother.

John Schnauber, a social worker who had known Estrella for seven years:

He did a lot of jobs for the community. He worked at the farmers market. Anytime that he was needed by any of his friends, and by the community itself, he was there. All we had to do was ask him. I mean, he had a beautiful soul. He really did.

He had life situations that led him in different ways. And honestly, it's just the way the world is nowadays. It's the way that he was left to grow up. The system is so unjust. This was almost a foreseeable outcome.

These kids walk home from school getting guns pulled out on them. They are not safe. And there's not [anything] being done about the kids needing help. They need a home, they need somebody to care, that's what they need — and nobody in this community will give them a place to even be safe.

People go to City Council meetings and they ask for programs for their children or a drop-in center. I've been to them recently when [officials are] walking around and saying "We’ve got $31 million" or whatever, "to hand out." But not for that. Not for them.

Orrin Powell, a human services worker, now employed by 18 Degrees:

There was a change in Miggy. He wanted better. And he did better. He chose to want to improve his life with work, with aspirations of getting a house, improving his credit. That's the biggest thing for me, the change in him. He wanted it and he was seeking it out. He was driving his own vehicle towards success. And that's not an easy feat. Change is not easy. And he was changing every day.

Miguel Estrella and Richard Walden.jpg

Miguel Angel Estrella, left, and fellow trainee Richard Walden show off their certificates after completing a program run by Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity in Pittsfield.  

Dubois Thomas, Habitat staffer who worked with Estrella:

I had some dealings with Miguel over the last several years. Miguel understood that it wasn't just a light switch to flip, and then life would just change.

He knew it was going to be a day-to-day thing. It's just a travesty that for young men that look like Miguel and I,  a bad day or a mistake is the end of your life. He didn't deserve that. I'm at a complete loss in my imagination for how that could have gone down that way.

Rachel Hanson, a licensed social worker who had known Estrella since he was a young teen participating in the Pittsfield Community Connection mentoring program:

Miguel was a good person. He was there for his community. He was there for his friends. He worked really hard. He shoveled driveways for the elderly. 

He overcame so much adversity. There were things that he went through in his life and there were ways that he struggled. He was a good person and he cared about other people deeply. It's tragic, what happened to him. Absolutely tragic. It shouldn't have happened.

He struggled in different ways, at different times, for different periods of time. There were times that he was in really dark places. And he had people around him that were able to help him – his friends, you know, people he could call on.

Miguel Vax.jpeg

Miguel Estrella sits for a COVID-19 vaccination. 

He always came back to a point where he knew he wanted to be successful. He knew he wanted to get out. It wasn't just for him. It was for him, his friends, his family. His dream wasn't just solo. He was a natural born leader.

He wanted it for everyone. He worked so hard to be able to be successful. And he touched so many people and allowed them to believe in themselves. He’s going to leave a hole in our lives. Forever, forever. And it's gonna affect so many people.

Miguel brought people around to the [PCC] program. He realized that there were a lot of people who could benefit. We had dinners where we had kids in the community come over and serve each other food – and not only do that, but make the food together, as a whole big family.

Miguel was at the head of that. He brought people over and he wanted to do more.

He was so resilient. It was genuine. It came from his soul. It's what drove him. It's what drove him every day.

Brent Getchell, a construction manager at Habitat who worked with Estrella:

So many people cared about Miguel. We took him in. He was an employee of Habitat because we felt strongly that he was going somewhere. And that he was teachable, trainable, respectful. He treated everyone kind of even-keeled.

When the pandemic hit, him and I were the only ones on the job site for what seemed like forever. I worked side by side with him and spent eight hours a day with the guy, every day, and he became one of my best friends.

We had a shooting at a job site, in the intersection, about a year ago. A guy got out of the car, walked around the corner and shot four shots into a house, then went up the street and shot a couple more shots.

mourners line up at funeral home

A steady stream of friends, family and co-workers arrive at Devanny-Condron Funeral Home in Pittsfield during calling hours for Miguel Estrella. Estrella, 22, was killed by police March 25 outside of his home on Onota Street.

Within five minutes, we had eight or nine cruisers show up. Once they saw Miguel, it didn't matter who else was on the job site. One police officer approached Miguel and [asked] what was going on, what's happening. “Why are they shooting at you?” And Miguel's like, “I'm not in that. I work. You can see I'm working full time for Habitat. I don't have time for that stuff. I just want to make sure the people here are okay."

It turns out it had nothing to do with Miguel. It just happened in that neighborhood. Even though I considered the police officer to be harassing Miguel, Miguel maintained a very respectful demeanor. Very respectful, probably more so than I would have.

Last Friday night? I don't know what happened. I could speculate. I just know he was done wrong. And so was the community. Because we lost such a great, great person that was going places.

Elizabeth Walker, a community member who knew Estrella:

He was working so hard to bring his family up, stable and good. But right along with it, he was bringing this community up – and he had every intention to keep doing that. It wasn't ever just about him. I think everybody feels like family, because he made us feel that way. Like you were taken care of … and he would have our back.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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