Family, friends remember shooting victim

CNJ Staff Photo: Andy DeLisle
Cheryl Cunningham, right, hugs Lupe Perez at a memorial to remember her son, Carlos, at Cameo Elementary School on Friday. Cunningham taught writing to Perez last school year.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Her head cradled by the shoulder of another woman, low moans rolled from Lupe Perez. This day last year, her 10-year-old son was slain while asleep in his bed.

On the anniversary of Carlos Perez’ death, the grief carried by his family, friends and classmates is still raw.

To honor Carlos, family and friends gathered Friday on the lawn of Cameo Elementary School. About 60 people, mostly relatives of Carlos, joined his former classmates and teachers. They remembered a boy who had the spirit to confront bullies, a smile that lit up rooms and a love of football (his favorite team was the Oakland Raiders).

“It’s a piece of our heart that they took away from us,” said Carlos’ brother, Daniel Perez, 22.

His mother declined to comment.

Carlos was shot on the dawn of Sept. 15, 2005, the eve of his 11th birthday. Police have said a dispute at school between Perez’ older brother, Ruben, and Orlando Salas, 16, led to the shooting. Several rounds were fired into the boys’ room; one struck Carlos in the head.

Police have said Ruben was the intended target.

Orlando Salas and three adults were arrested in connection with the homicide. A fifth adult suspect remains at-large.

“I feel … I am not sure how I feel … without him … I don’t know,” stumbled Eloy Bailon, Carlos’ 14-year-old cousin.

During the short Friday memorial, shadows flickered across the backs of the women who sat in rows near a pear tree. Students planted it Friday for Carlos. A fierce wind bent the trunk of the fragile tree and rang its tear-shaped leaves.

Further away, about a dozen men and boys leaned, shoulder to shoulder, against a chain-link fence. Some kneeled, some stood with their hands crossed or their heads bowed.

“In the spring,” Cameo Principal Carrie Nigreville said during the memorial, “the tree will be covered in beautiful, white blossoms. … Every spring when this tree blossoms, we will remember Carlos: his laughter, his friendship, his family.”

The death of Carlos, Nigreville said, shook her school. In the days following the shooting, students were afraid to walk home, afraid to sleep, she said.

Carlos was shot in a neighborhood just yards from the school.

“This happened in his own bed,” Nigreville said.

“For a while, there was fear,” but it has ebbed, Nigreville said. Among students, it has been replaced by an acute sense of loss, she said.

Carlos’ fifth-grade teacher, Darla O’Hare, read poems about Carlos during the memorial. One she had written herself. Another was written by Carlos’ unnamed classmate; its refrain was simple: Carlos, Carlos.

“We will never say goodbye to your memory,” O’Hare said.

Said Gloria Navarrete, Carlos’ aunt, “I don’t think it is something we will ever get over.”

“There is not one day that goes by,” she said, “we don’t cry.”