Student finds support after losing parents

October 21, 2019
It is never easy to lose a parent. In the span of just 24 hours, Daniel Morozov lost both of his. 
“It was horrible,” Pine Grove School teacher Rebecca Belanger said. “My heart broke. I was just sad. Devastated. I can’t even imagine what he went through.” On Aug. 21, 2017, Konstantin Morozov shot and killed his ex-wife Natalia Morozova in Santa Maria. He then abducted Daniel and drove to Los Angeles. An Amber Alert was issued at 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 22. Police found Daniel and his father later that night. After a standoff, police shot Konstantin Morozov, who later died at a hospital. In an instant, 9-year-old Daniel was an orphan.
Natalia Morozova’s boyfriend, Jesse Gonzalez, was grieving from the murder when social services called and asked him to take in Daniel. The answer was simple. “Just knowing that he’s just a kid and he lost so much and he has no one. How can I just let Daniel go?” Gonzalez said. “I cared for him. I loved him. There’s no way. I couldn’t.” Two weeks after losing his mom and dad, Daniel returned to Pine Grove School in Santa Maria.  “Our intent was to make school as normal of a place as possible for Daniel,” Pine Grove School teacher Ron Maderas said. “The very first day when he went out to the playground, I still remember him walking out on the blacktop and all the kids coming up to him. And they just welcomed Daniel.” Getting back to normal was never a reality. But a new normal? That was a possibility. And it would start with Jesse. “Jesse’s a really nice guy,” Daniel said. “Like on a scale of one to 10, I like him 10. Maybe more.” It has only been two years since that tragic night. Daniel is still fragile and still grieving. Daniel and Gonzalez attend therapy sessions together to talk about their loss. “We just let him know that it’s OK for him to feel how he feels,” Gonzalez said. “It’s OK for him to feel angry. To feel sad. For him to miss his mom and his dad. That it’s normal. And that life goes on. I tell him one day we’ll see your mom. And sometimes he says, ‘Can God call me now? I want to see my mom.’ I’m like, ‘No.’ I tell him that in time. God has a plan.” All the people who have lifted Daniel up over these last two years said the young boy has had a huge impact on them, too. “I’ve obviously taught many many wonderful children over the years,” Maderas said. “And Daniel will always be unique based on the fact that we’re attached. We were attached through his tragedy and him forcing me to re-examine the way I teach, re-examine the way I reach out to children. So Daniel actually helped me to become a better teacher.” No child should have to suffer such a tragic loss at such a young age, but Daniel is healing. So, too, is Gonzalez. “He makes me complete,” Gonzalez said. “There was always something missing in my life. And now I have it. I feel like my life is complete with Daniel.”
Daniel Morozov, 11, found support at school and through his guardian Jesse Gonzalez following the violent deaths of both of his parents in 2017.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators