BELMONT — Henry O. Tapia’s family gathered with several hundred supporters and community members for a tearful vigil late Thursday afternoon in Cushing Square, where the crowd filled Common Street and lined sidewalks, joining with an a cappella vocalist to sing “Amazing Grace.”
Many carried photographs of Tapia, a Black and Latino man who was killed Tuesday night on Upland Road when he was allegedly run over by a white man who hurled a racial slur at him.
“He was a beloved brother, a beloved son, a beloved father,” said Sarah Bilodeau, a member of the group Community Organized for Solidarity, who spoke on behalf of Tapia’s family. “He was a beloved coworker. You will see amongst you this evening many of his colleagues ... and he was cherished by all of them.”
Prosecutors have said “hateful speech,” allegedly used by Dean S. Kapsalis, 54, led to the death of Tapia, a 34-year-old father of three children who was raised in Boston but was living with his girlfriend in Belmont.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan and Police Chief James MacIsaac joined their fellow residents to mourn Tapia’s death and denounce racial hatred.
“I wish I could tell you that by arresting the suspect in this case, the problem of racial hatred would disappear from our community. Unfortunately I don’t have those words,” said MacIsaac. “But I can tell you — and I’ve lived in this community my whole life — we have many, many dedicated people in this community working very hard to eliminate racism and welcome diversity into the town of Belmont.”
Ryan expressed horror at the racist language and violent acts Kapsalis is accused of.
“We cannot have that here, and we cannot continue in the pattern that we’ve unfortunately been in ... of seeing these kinds of incidents,” Ryan said. “We have signs across this town, and everybody here has seen them: ‘Hate has no place here.’ ... We have to live what those signs say.”
People held signs that read, “White supremacy is terrorism,” “Racism kills,” and “His life matters.”
Tapia’s young son Elias held a sign that read, “I miss my dad! Mommy won’t let me forget you.”
The crowd chanted Tapia’s name and the refrain, “We love you! We miss you! We will keep fighting for you!”
Judy Williams attended the vigil with her family, including her sister and nephew, who was Tapia’s best friend.
“They’re like two peas in a pod,” said Williams, 49, of Dorchester, who said she was visiting Belmont for the first time. “They do everything together. This is devastating for our family.”
Williams said she was shocked by the alleged racial component of the attack on Tapia, saying he was someone who accepted everyone.
She had a simple message she wanted to send the community, she said: “We’re all the same.”
According to Ryan’s office, Tapia and Kapsalis argued while both were driving on Upland Road around 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. Tapia was getting into his car when, witnesses told police, Kapsalis used a racial epithet at Tapia and then allegedly drove directly at Tapia with his Dodge Dakota pickup, fatally injuring him.
Tapia, who was known as “Henny,” was active in the Tekken gaming community in Boston, where he was known by the moniker “TheBadGuy.” Nearly 1,000 people have donated to a GoFundMe campaign created to help his family.
Tapia was considered to be an amiable, positive presence at weekly game sessions that were routinely held at Balance Patch near Boston University until the pandemic suspended the gatherings, said Ed Ropple who helps organize online gaming events.
“People are broken up,’' said Ropple. “He was larger than life.”
The happiest I ever seen Henny was at EVO 2019. He gathered every top player or FGC influencer he could and asked them to do a "Bad" pose.— Nick DeJesus 🛒🎉 - Unpaid CTO @BTPipeline (@Dayhaysoos) January 21, 2021
He couldn't stop talking about these pictures for weeks.
RIP Henny 😔@Harada_TEKKEN pic.twitter.com/pT9AEGL4Bh
Another gamer, Danny Garcia, expressed his grief on Twitter.
Tapia was getting back into his car when Kapsalis allegedly shouted a racial epithet at him, upsetting Tapia, who stepped back out onto the street, police said.
Kapsalis, according to authorities, got into his car and drove directly into Tapia, who was facing the vehicle as it came toward him, and then ran over him. Kapsalis fled the scene but later surrendered to police, officials said.
Tapia suffered multiple injuries, including a head injury. Belmont police officers arrived and began providing emergency first aid to Tapia, whose family said he was of Black and Latin heritage.
“I can’t breathe,” Tapia said, according to police. “I’m going to die.”
He was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Kapsalis is in custody pending a dangerousness hearing set for Monday in Cambridge District Court. He pleaded not guilty to criminal charges, including civil rights violation while causing personal injury. Ryan’s office said the investigation is continuing.
Since getting a driver’s license around 1987, Kapsalis has been cited for speeding at least 17 times, was involved in at least seven surcharge crashes, and had his right to drive suspended at least six times, usually for a cluster of traffic violations in a short period of time, according to Registry of Motor Vehicle records.
According to court records, Kapsalis has been arrested multiple times over the past several years. He was convicted of assault and battery by a Woburn District Court jury of six in 2014 and was given a one-year sentence at the Middlesex House of Correction that was suspended for one year, according to court records. There is no indication in the court records that he was jailed in connection with the case.
The investigation into Tapia’s death is ongoing.