They had planned an October wedding, a culmination of a nine-year courtship that began in the school where they taught developmentally disabled children.
Sanches, a 31-year-old dean of students at a District charter school, was fatally shot Saturday night while visiting friends in Shaw. A friend told George that Sanches, who was near the Kennedy Recreation Center, pushed a woman out of the way before he was hit.
“I know he fought to live,” George said. “I know he fought. He had to make it home to us.”
Sanches was shot about 11:15 p.m. in the 700 block of O Street NW. Police said he was with a group of people, and investigators have not yet determined what sparked the attack.
The shooting occurred in the heart of a quickly gentrifying neighborhood — but one where historic beefs between rival crews remain volatile. Sanches grew up in Shaw and graduated from Dunbar High School.
Sanches was the District’s 114th homicide victim of this year, his death coming as a rise in killings and shootings has raised concern among District residents and lawmakers. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has called for the hiring of additional police officers amid efforts to reinvent policing following demonstrations for racial and social justice.
Sanches was the dean of students at Imagine Hope Community Charter School, an elementary and middle school in Northeast Washington that serves more than 400 students, most of whom are Black and from low-income families.
Imagine Hope’s principal, Okiemute Pela, sent a letter to staff this weekend, informing them of the killing and letting them know that the school would be coordinating grief counselors for staff and families.
She recalled Sanches as an integral part of the school. Recently, Sanches changed his family vacation plans so he could be in D.C. for the school’s leadership training.
“It is hurtful and very painful to think about his loss and all of those who love and need him,” Pela wrote, adding, “Love, Compassion and Kindness is what we need now more than ever.”
George is now planning a funeral instead of a wedding. She has lost her soul mate, provider, father of her four young children and the person who helped her cope with another tragedy. In 2010, her boyfriend at the time beat to death her 20-month-old son, Dominic Kingsbury Jr.; he is in prison until 2028.
When George met Sanches in 2012, she said, she was an emotional wreck, trying to recover from her son’s death. Sanches took it slow, striking up casual banter and driving her home from work. On one trip, she handed him a newspaper article about her son’s death and asked him to read.
The next day, Sanches showed empathy and support.
“Any other guy would have taken advantage of me, or they would have run away from me,” George said Monday. “He didn’t do that. He accepted me and all my flaws, and so much baggage.”
Now, Sanches is gone too, and George said she is beyond crushed.
“My heart can only take so much,” she said.
Lakisha Davis-Small, one of Sanches’s oldest cousins, said some people called him “Mr. Nice-Look,” because he was always stylish and matched his shoes to his belt to his cuff-linked shirt. His 8-year-old twins, she said, liked to dress like their dad.
Davis-Small, 42, said she helped raise Sanches and recalled once asking him for a project what he liked about her. He lighted a candle and told her, “You’re my light in the darkness.” Davis-Small said that she “grabbed him and hugged him so hard I think I was choking him. It was so poetic.”
Kevin Davis, who owns the Pro Cut Family Barber Shop in Congress Heights, said Sanches became a regular about four years ago and brought his older twins in for their haircuts.
He said Sanches talked about his family and his job, and doted on his girlfriend. The 56-year-old barber said he repeatedly told Sanches to hurry up and marry George.
“They were going no place but up,” Davis said of the couple. Sanches, he said, “was an outstanding individual, terrific father and terrific citizen. What happened to him is one of those things you just don’t understand in life. I just don’t understand why.”
Sanches had many friends in Shaw, according to George, and had worked with children all his life, from classrooms to track fields to basketball courts.
George had worked for several years as the benefits director for the D.C. police union. She said she left that job when her latest set of twins was born, leaving Sanches the family’s sole provider. She said he spent as much time as he could with their children, sometimes in what she described as “wild play” — tumbling and flipping across the floor.
He had just spent $200 on tickets to take the 8-year-olds for ringside seats at the UniverSoul Circus at National Harbor, a show that opens this week.
“He was there for anybody and everybody,” George said.
Martin Weil contributed to this report.