Community remembers Cutler-Orosi teacher shot in Dinuba

Dinuba Police Department investigates homicide of a Cutler-Orosi middle school Spanish teacher; students, coworkers remember him for his impact on the community

By Serena Bettis
Published November 9, 2023  • 
10:00 am
Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District road sign along Ave 416 in Orosi. (Kenny Goodman)
Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District road sign along Ave 416 in Orosi. (Kenny Goodman)

DINUBA – Community members in Dinuba and Cutler-Orosi are mourning the loss of a Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District (COJUSD) teacher who died early Monday morning. 

According to a press release from the Dinuba Police Department, officers conducted a welfare check along Roosevelt Way in the southeast area of Dinuba at approximately 3 a.m. on Nov. 6, where they found a deceased man with multiple gunshot wounds. The man, identified as Sergio Martin, was a Spanish teacher at El Monte Middle School and had worked for COJUSD for 17 years.

“Mr. Martin was deeply rooted and well-connected with his students, their families and the entire COJUSD community,” Eddie Valero, Tulare County supervisor for district 4, said. “His tenacious heart for El Monte Middle School was evident through student interactions, his genuine care for student success and well-being and his love for humanity in all.” 

The Dinuba Police Department said the initial investigation of the incident led to the identification of a juvenile suspect who they have charged with homicide and booked into the Tulare County Juvenile Detention Center. The department will not be releasing any more information about the suspect due to their juvenile status in order to protect their identity and the integrity of the ongoing investigation.

Dinuba Police Lt. Thaddeus Ashford said a neighbor saw suspicious subjects leaving the area which prompted them to call in the welfare check. 

No weapons were found at the scene of the crime and a motive has not yet been determined. Ashford said no apparent connection between the juvenile suspect and Martin have been identified yet, either.

Remembered as a dedicated educator

In an official statement regarding Martin’s death sent out by the district on Nov. 7, COJUSD Superintendent Yolanda Valdez said Martin’s dedication to teaching was clear not only through the time he spent lesson planning, but through the extra support he gave to students in need and his efforts to build a classroom environment “built on respect, inclusivity and a genuine sense of belonging.”

“Mr. Martin was not just an exceptional educator but a beacon of inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing and learning from him,” Valdez said. “His passion for teaching and unwavering commitment to our students left an unforgettable mark on our district, and his impact will resonate for years to come.” 

Supervisor Valero, who grew up in Cutler-Orosi and still resides in the area, said he visited Martin’s class during school visits while serving on the COJUSD Board of Trustees and interacted with Martin at various school events. 

“Students’ messages left on Mr. Martin’s classroom is a testament to his profound impact on the school campus, and that which is felt across the entire community,” Valero said.

Students and staff also took the opportunity to honor Martin during the COJUSD Alternative Education Dia de los Muertos Celebration at Lovell High School in Cutler Nov. 7.

“Mr. Martin was more than just a teacher; he was a mentor, a role model and a friend to many,” Valdez said.

Support for grieving students, families

Valdez’s message said grief counselors will be available to individuals in need and the district is committed to providing support and resources to students, staff and district families. 

“We appreciate your support during this difficult time and extend our deepest condolences to all who were touched by Mr. Martin’s extraordinary presence,” Valdez said. “Together, as a resilient and caring community, the Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District will find strength in each other as we honor the memory of Mr. Sergio Martin.”

Valero said students, staff and faculty in the grieving process should not go through it alone and should be sure to reach out to someone who can navigate the challenging time with them. 

“Always remember to hold on to the lasting, beautiful memories shared with Mr. Martin, as this will help sustain you through the hardship,” Valero said. 

He emphasized that parents and teachers should reach out to students who had Martin as a teacher to check in on them and ensure they know it’s OK to question, show emotion and focus on mental health as a priority during this time. Valero said it is also often best to share these emotions with someone who is equipped to walk through them and offer the “best, sound advice to keep everyone moving forward together.”

Further, as the community awaits more information regarding the investigation into Martin’s killing, Valero said the county will continue to work to make sure the community is safe and vigilant. He implored upon parents in Tulare County communities to know what their children are up to and who they are around, as well as knowing what they as parents can do to be “intricately involved” in their children’s everyday lives.

“These senseless acts of violence deserve no place in our communities,” Valero said. “Our entire community grieves when a member of it is taken away too soon.”

The Dinuba Police Department is asking that anyone with information about the incident contact them at 559-591-5911 or, if they wish to remain anonymous, through 559-591-8471.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter