Neighborhood heartbreak

I’m sure you’ve read the paper, seen the news.  A 13-year-old boy was shot and killed on Sunday. Father’s Day. Killed by men filled with drink and cowardice. Cowardice is the only way to explain shooting at someone through a closed door.  Had they waited for the young man to open the door, I would not be writing this post. But cowards don’t kill a man face-to-face.

I found out about the shooting when I went to visit my dad on Father’s Day. My parents were visibly upset by the shooting. They found out about it at 8:00 Mass. You see, they live one block and one street over from the shooting. Our neighborhood. My neighborhood.

It isn’t like this hasn’t happened before. The neighborhood of my childhood has seen violence. A community built upon the work ethic of first-generation Mexican Americans has seen the infiltration of gangs, along with vandalism, burglary, theft. A community brushed aside by the city, the neighborhood has had to fight its battles all alone. And they did. From neighborhood watches, gang task force meetings, visits to new neighbors, keeping a careful eye on the goings-on of each individual block, the people of this neighborhood fought what was thought a losing battle.

I moved back to Wichita in 1989, at the peak of my neighborhood’s instability. I moved in with my parents until I could find a place of my own. One night, I was watching movies at a cousin’s house when my dad called to tell me not to come home. There had been a shooting. A young man was shot and killed as he left a party. The party was across the street and two doors to the north of my parents. The young man was shot in the street. He died next to their front curb. He’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or so the authorities said. Looking for a girl, he arrived at a party where he was not wanted. They shot him as he left the party.

My parents were upset, but even more so when their house was shown during the 10:00 news. They did not want to be associated with the shooting or the gangs. I was angry. This was my neighborhood. I rode my bike up and down these streets. Played hide and seek. Caught footballs, hit baseballs in my neighbors yards. The very curb this young man bled to death, I had stopped the ice cream man on numerous occasions. What was this world? How had it come to this?

We blamed the gangs. We blamed their parents and their lack of parenting. We blamed the city for not getting involved sooner, for thinking that the Wichita gang problem would just go away. We blamed ourselves for not being more involved.

And we began to change. The people of the community became more involved.

Then a little boy lost his life. A young boy who attended Mayberry Middle School and played football for the Wichita Aztecs. A boy who was shot to death answering the door of his home. A home in which he felt safe, secure. A home where his father and his mother and his siblings screamed in agony over his senseless death on a clear Sunday morning. Father’s Day.  

When I saw his picture, I imagined my own brother when he was 13 and playing Laker football. And I could not imagine the pain, the suffering of this family. I don’t remember crying over the young man killed at the curb of my childhood home, but I sobbed over this little boy. And I don’t why. Maybe because I remember being angry that the party was gang affiliated, and I blamed that young man for coming to this neighborhood. Surely he knew there would be rival gangs at this party. But this young boy? He was answering the door on a Sunday morning. Innocent. In his own home. Probably his pajamas. The only choice he’d made that morning was to answer a knock at his door. His door. A door he’d opened a hundred times.

I wanted to go to the rosary this evening, but decided against it. I didn’t know the family. Not really. I don’t know a lot of the families in my neighborhood. Not any more. But I still consider it my neighborhood. And Miguel was a part of that neighborhood. My heart breaks for him and his family.  I may not live there, but my heart is there and will always be there. And right now, it is broken into a million little pieces.

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