‘Something special’: Community mourns beloved SDA volunteer, soccer coach

When word spread on Friday of the death of 24-year-old Mathias Soto-Elgueta, the first thing his friends and family did was exactly what Soto-Elgueta would have done himself: They sprang into action.

Soto-Elgueta — a veteran, Shakopee Soccer Association coach and enthusiastic volunteer with the Shakopee Diversity Alliance — died by suicide late Thursday night. Amid his family’s heartbreak and grief, they are determined to raise awareness about depression and suicide, especially among communities of color and veterans. 

They started by attending an impromptu vigil at West Junior High soccer field less than 24 hours after Soto-Elgueta’s death. Surrounded by a circle of more than 100 mask-wearing, candle-carrying friends and family, Marco Soto — Soto-Elgueta’s dad — spoke about his love for his son and the importance of being vulnerable and seeking help if you need it. 

Mathias Soto-Elgueta’s loved ones gathered at West Junior High soccer field the day after his death to light candles in his honor.

“This illness (depression), we need to get it out there so people know what it is,” Soto told the Shakopean. “I don’t want nobody to go through what we went through. And with the Latino community, it’s a taboo thing.” 

Though many people have heard of depression, Soto is urging others not to brush it off and not to be ashamed about seeking help and support. Soto-Elgueta was getting counseling before his death, but historically he struggled to admit when he needed help, his dad said.

“Lately a lot of things happened in his personal life that it just overwhelmed him,” Soto said. “He was the kind of kid that really didn’t ask for help even though he needed it. With his therapist, he was doing a good job and trying to get ahead of it but it was just too big for him.”

‘He didn’t think about himself’

Soto-Elgueta was born in Santiago, Chile, to Soto and his wife, Jessica Elgueta. The family immigrated to the United States when Soto-Elgueta was eight. After graduating from Shakopee High School, he went on to serve with the United States Air Force and was deployed to Kuwait in 2018.

Most recently, Soto-Elgueta was working for Scott County Public Health doing covid-19 contact tracing. 

Mathias Soto-Elgueta was an Air Force veteran. His family has asked for donations to Operation 23 to 0 in his honor.

According to friends and family, Soto-Elgueta had a heart for serving others and always pushed people to be the best version of themselves. After becoming involved with Esperanza, a CAP Agency program that means “hope” in Spanish, Soto-Elgueta joined SDA as the treasurer early this year and volunteered at every local food distribution event he could fit into his schedule. 

“For him it was a passion to help people out, and this year he wanted to help people to get through this pandemic. He told me there’s people out there suffering that have nothing,” Soto said. “That was our battle every single day: He didn’t think about himself. He thought what he was doing wasn’t good enough. All that he did, and he thought he needed to do more. That’s how that mental illness is, it blocked him from seeing himself as he is.”

SDA President Ana Vergara became close with Soto-Elgueta during their time volunteering together, sharing stories about their faith in God and praying together at food drives. He was like a little brother, Vergara said. 

“He had this kind light that would comfort anyone that would come into contact with him,” she said. “Mathias loved God and believed strongly in prayer, so he’d pray over every box of food he’d drop off at covid-19 positive households who couldn’t leave their homes.”

Mathias Soto-Elgueta, left, volunteering at a food distribution earlier this year with Mary Hernandez.

As far back as sixth grade, Soto-Elgueta began his journey of volunteerism when he helped with an after-school program called Skittles, which sought to build stronger academic and social skills among diverse junior high students. 

That’s where he met the three young men who would eventually become like brothers — Jacob Arellano, Iván Isidoro and Mauro Classen. 

“We started this little group in middle school, we called it Latino Club (later known as Skittles),” Arellano remembered. “I met Mathias — and I remember how I met him. I wanted someone to do something crazy with me. It was after school and I said, ‘Let’s just jump around on the cafeteria tables.’”

Soto-Elgueta agreed to the stunt without a second thought, Arellano said, remembering the mischievous look on his friend’s face.

“After that I knew it was something special,” Arellano said. 

Isidoro and Classen became quick friends with Soto-Elgueta after learning he had immigrated from Chile. Isidoro had recently moved from New York, and Classen had immigrated from Argentina. 

“We kind of connected about how it was difficult to leave people behind,” Isidoro said. 

“We could culturally really connect,” Classen added. “After that, these guys just felt like family right away. It really felt like home whenever I was around him.” 

From left: Iván Isidoro, Jacob Arellano, Mauro Classen and Marco Soto gather before doing a virtual interview with the Shakopean.

More than anything, the four friends were bonded by their love of soccer. Over the years they would come to play thousands of hours together, celebrating their (apparently plentiful) wins with trips to local restaurants and shedding tears together over the losses.

In the months leading to Soto-Elgueta’s death, his friends knew he was struggling with depression and tried to be there for him when he needed support. In hindsight, they said, they weren’t equipped to provide the kind of help their friend needed. 

“You can be there as much as you want, but he’ll always have a moment where he’s by himself, where he’s fighting his own demons,” Arellano said. “It’s impossible to fight depression because you’re on your own, and it’s in your head.”

Mary Hernandez, a co-founder of SDA and friend of Soto-Elgueta, said she has witnessed the four friends breaking cultural cycles by the way they have always been open and vulnerable with each other. She hopes it’s an example to others that vulnerability is not weakness, and that it’s OK to be honest about your feelings and struggles. 

“When I see them, they are breaking barriers and taboos down. I always heard Mathias tell them how much he loved them, and in the Latino culture you do not express love for other men,” she explained. “I hear these guys telling each other they love each other.”

“(Mathias) was trying to break that barrier, the macho Latino thing,” Soto added. “(These kids) carry so much with them and to see their fathers cry for the first time can be like, ‘Wow, is he weak?’ That’s why I want to get rid of this stigma. In any immigrant community, that’s the issue, that they hide that and put it under the rug and don’t let it out.” 

‘Look how many people’s lives you’ve impacted’

In the days since his son’s unexpected death, Soto and his family have been leaning on community support. When so many people showed up at the soccer field vigil on such short notice, Soto was overcome with gratitude. 

Standing in the center of the circle of people who loved his son the most, all of them holding candles or smartphone flashlights, Soto said he felt at peace.

“When me and my daughter found him, I was really angry at him and angry at God and angry at everything,” Soto said. “But now I’m at peace with him because I know he’s not suffering. What made it a lot easier for me was when I saw in that field, there were more than 100 people there, and all I saw was the light and shadows. That was so beautiful, and that was him. To be out in the cold at that time, even with the drizzle, that was something big. It signified what he did.” 

Mathias Soto-Elgueta volunteers at a food distribution event earlier this year.

Arellano, Isidoro and Classen, along with the rest of their soccer teammates, were with Soto in the center of the circle and felt a similar energy.

“It was beautiful,” Isidoro said. “He deserves nothing less. Look how many people’s lives you’ve impacted.” 

Arellano said he felt frustrated they weren’t able to show Soto-Elgueta all of those people and how much they love him. 

“I thought of how he’d say he felt alone. I was kind of angry because I’m like damn Mathias, look at all the people that are here for you,” Arellano said. 

But that’s the thing about depression, Soto said. “It blinds you and you feel alone.”

For Classen, being back on the soccer field with his teammates brought back memories of all the times they played there together. Soto-Elgueta likely coached on that field, too. Someday, the friends hope to create a memorial for him in town, perhaps at one of the soccer fields, to remember his footprint on Shakopee.

“With the death of Mathias, he didn’t leave us darkness. He left, and he left us light,” Classen said. “He deserves to be honored and should be remembered.” 

Seeking mental health support

With the stress of the pandemic weighing on people, Vergara is hopeful SDA can play a part in helping Soto-Elgueta’s family open a community conversation about seeking mental health support and taking depression seriously. 

SDA arranged for a Scott County crisis counselor to attend the soccer field vigil to share resources and offer support for Soto-Elgueta’s grieving friends, teammates, and family. 

Speaking at the vigil, Vergara reminded everyone to check in on each other in the coming days as they process and mourn Soto-Elgueta’s death. 

Looking for a therapist or seeking crisis support can feel daunting, but Scott County Mental Health Center is one phone call away and offers services to any resident of the county regardless of legal status. They accept all insurance providers, including Medical Assistance and Medicare, and they offer sliding fees based on income for anyone who is uninsured. 

Dr. Terry Raddatz is a licensed psychologist and the clinical director at Scott County Mental Health Center. She said the county offers everything from crisis support and psychological evaluation to various therapy settings and medication management by licensed professionals. 

The intake line is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Monday through Friday at 952-496-8481. For evening and weekend coverage, the mental health center partners with Scott County Mobile Crisis Services, which is available by calling 952-818-3702 any time, day or night. 

When someone calls and is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is in crisis, Raddatz said the priority is to make a safety plan that is unique to the caller’s needs.

“We talk them through a plan for safety, and if they need to go to the hospital we talk to them about that, or we might make an appointment for them to go in,” Raddatz said. “Anything that will ensure their safety, we’d work with them on that. It could be staying with someone they know and trust, it could be coming in to see us and making a plan that way, it could be going to the ER and doing an assessment, it could be coming in for medication. There’s as many safety plans as there would be people calling.”

Soto urges anyone struggling to open up about their mental health to let their guard down and seek help.

“If there was someone like my son, don’t be afraid to talk to somebody. There’s people that will always love you all the time no matter how you are,” he said. “And for parents, be there for your kids. Don’t brush them off. Try to understand what he’s going through, at least try. And friends, to keep an eye on each other. My son was the happiest guy with his friends. When somebody is like that and happy, you got to be careful, because he could be hiding something underneath.”

To contribute to the fund established by SDA to benefit Soto-Elgueta’s family, click here.

Mental Health Resources:

Scott County Mental Health Center8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Monday – Friday
Scott County Mobile Crisis Services24-hour emergency services952-818-3702
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline24-hour phone line1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line24-hour texting lineText “HOME” to
741741 to connect
with a counselor

Organizations that Soto-Elgueta volunteered with took to social media to express their grief and condolences to his family:

In Case You Missed It

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply