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Community Learns to Fight Back, Raises $1,400 for Sierra LaMar Fund

At a safety and self-defense workshop that also raised money for the Sierra LaMar Fund, community members learned ways to stay safe and defend themselves.

About 117 people turned out for last night's Safety & Self Defense Awareness in Honor of Sierra LaMar fundraiser at Ann Sobrato High School, where missing Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar is a sophomore.

Organizer Amy Porter-Jensen said that through donations, the event raised $1,400 for the .

Morgan Hill Police Department School Resource Officer Sara Alanis kicked off the event with a presentation on ways people of all ages can stay safe, particularly online.

"If you think your [social media] profile is private, you're wrong," she said. "It is very open, even if you hide yourself on Google, you are open. It is the Internet. It is unprotected."

Alanis told the group that as of two years ago, there were 90,000 predators on the Internet.

After she offered suggestions on ways to stay safe, such as not posting locations on social media sites, attendees broke into small groups based on age for hands-on instruction in self-defense.

Lapel grabs, throat gouges and wrist twists were just some of the skills imparted on attendees by instructors from Train For Life in Morgan Hill and West Coast World Martial Arts in Morgan Hill and Hollister.

The sound of 6-year-old Girl Scouts screaming "No!" at the top of their lungs filled the gynasium.

"The young kids learning this stuff, it's huge," said Rowdy Hall, co-founder of TFL's martial arts program, as he was working with the 8-and-under group. "This is where they are most impressionable but also the most trusting. This is the age where they think everyone is a nice person."

Many attendees, like Sophia Reyes, 12, of Morgan Hill, said they hadn't given much thought to the skills they'd need to defend themselves until last night.

"I've never thought about ways that I'd have to defend myself before," she said. "My mom wanted me to come to learn how to defend myself and I feel like I'm learning how not to get taken."

Others, like Gabriel Celaya, 13, of Morgan Hill, did have previous experience in self-defense but wanted to learn more.

"I've done mixed martial arts and kickboxing before, but I thought I'd come to see what different self-defense stuff they could offer," he said. "I never knew the finger jab to the throat."

Teresa Hendrickson, 49, of Morgan Hill, brougtht her 12-year-old daughter Lauren to the event. She too felt like she was leaving with important information.

"This is stuff I've never thought about before," she said. "You don't realize what kind of techniques would work in these situations that are even better than just punching someone. I'm going home with a greater awareness, especially about Facebook. We're going to talk about this stuff, too."

Participants weren't just minors, either. Gretchen Saso, 34, of Morgan Hill, took part in the skills lessons. As the mother of three young children, Saso said she often feels like she is an easy target.

"My husband is always telling me I need to be more aware because I get so distracted," she said. "They taught us specific moves that were very easy. I feel like I could go home and teach my son, daughters and husband how to do them."

Allie Camacho, 6, of Morgan Hill said she was having fun as she demonstrated what to do if someone grabs her arm.

"I'm learning to defend myself," she said. "I think I'll remember this stuff."

Gilroy Patch will be posting a photo essay of the event shortly.

For previous coverage of the Sierra LaMar case, refer to the Sierra LaMar Disappearance: Comprehensive Updates and Information page.

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