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Charlotte Ortega left one dream unfulfilled

By Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Monday January 07, 2002

In what may be viewed as sad irony Charlotte Ortega, the special education teacher found dead in the bay, had hoped to build a homeless shelter in Lagos, Nigeria to be called the Lazarous House. On Wednesday, the Alameda County District Attorney charged Lazarus Ortega with the murder of Charlotte Ortega, his adoptive mother. 

Members of the Agape Community Church in San Pablo pledged to complete their fellow parishoner’s vision for Lazarus House at an emotional memorial service on Saturday. 

Ortega, a Berkeley resident and a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District, was a devout and incredibly giving woman, according to her friends.  

Pastor John Ojewole, leader of the mixed Nigerian and American Agape congregation, said that her leadership was essential in organizing the church’s mission to Nigeria in early 1999.  

On that trip, the church was able to establish a low-cost medical clinic, supported by the congregation, that assists Nigerians who can not afford health care. 

"We thank God for the way he has used this woman for good during her path to glory," Ojewole said. 

Because of her disabilities, Ortega could not go travel to Nigeria, but she did send her daughter. 

Jean Matulis, one of Ortega’s closest friends for more than 20 years, told of Ortega’s belief in forgiveness and salvation and exhorted everyone present to follow her example. 

"Charlotte and I had our differences, but we always made up," she said. "There is no doubt in my mind that Charlotte loves and forgives anyone who has hurt her in her entire life." 

Richard Owen, Ortega’s father, told of a letter he recently received from his daughter, in which she thanked him for all the ways in which he raised her. 

"It seems unfair that you did all these things for me and I don’t know how to pay you back," Ortega wrote. 

Owen, who lives in Chicago, said that he called his daughter shortly after he got the letter. 

"I said to her, ‘Charlotte, you’re not supposed to pay me back. You pay that back to others -- to your children, to your friends and especially to strangers. That’s the way of civilization." 

"But I realized it was a waste of time to tell Charlotte to be kind to people. She was way ahead of me on that one." 

Deborah Kropp, who met Ortega when they both came to Berkeley in the early 70s, imagined her friend in a Heaven that closely resembled the home she chose in life. 

"I know that Charlotte is up there in Heaven, sitting in a coffeeshop with her friends and drinking her cappuccinos," she said. 

Kropp said that in the 70s, Ortega worked with several progressive Berkeley Christian organizations -- the Christian World Liberation Front, the Berkeley Christian Coalition and Right On magazine. 


Pastor Ojewole said that he had talked to Ortega just a few days before her death on Dec. 30. He said that she was joking with him on the phone -- "you know the jokes she would tell… hoo boy!" -- and he was amazed, in retrospect, at how lively a woman she was. 

Ojewole said that he looked forward to meeting Ortega again in Heaven. 

"On that day when I see her again, I will give her a big hug!" he said "Up there where there is no pain! No strife! And I will sing!" 

"When we all get to Heaven 

What a day of rejoicing that will be! 

When we all see Jesus 

We’ll sing and shout the victory." 


Lazarus Ortega will enter his plea at Alameda County Superior Court on Jan. 16.