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Every morning Manaces Flores-Bravo drops off his children at school. But before he goes to work, the father makes another stop — to his son’s gravesite.
“Sometimes I’m here alone,” he said. “I talk to myself, and I talk to him. I know he doesn’t hear me anymore, but it makes me feel better.”
It’s been more than three months since his son, Luis, was gunned down in an attempted robbery at the Speedway convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. But the grief Luis’ family shares is still raw.
“It’s a struggle day to day,” his father said through tears.
On Saturday afternoon, family and friends gathered at the teen’s gravesite to celebrate what would have been his 17th birthday.
“It is what we would normally do, gather for this birthday, as if he was still alive,” his father said.
Many tears were shed as they prayed, read Bible verses, sang songs and listened to a message of hope from their pastor.
Luis’ mother, Sylvia, said while the pain of losing a child has been extremely difficult, her faith in God has grown stronger. As she remembered her son who had a smile that could light up a room, she said she’s comforted by one thing.
“I know I will see him again,” she said.
‘IT’S REALLY PAINFUL’
While six teens were charged with first-degree murder and attempted robbery in Luis’ death, it will never bring him back, his family and friends said.
“I just want to know why they took an innocent life,” Luis’ younger sister, Emily, said. “He had a bright future.”
Police haven’t revealed a motive or the circumstances surrounding the shooting death. Luis’ family has said the teen was an innocent bystander who would often walk to the store to buy a snack or soda and return to his Freeman Street home where he lived with his parents. Police responded to the July 20 shooting call around 9:34 p.m. Luis was found in the 1700 block of Freeman Street — not too far from his home. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It’s hard because he’s not here anymore,” Emily said through tears. “But all of our family still gather together. I’m just glad all of us did (today) even if he’s not here.”
Emily said she hopes the violence will stop, and she hopes no other family has to go through what they are experiencing.
“People often don’t know how people feel after it, how much pain it causes to the other family,” she said. “It’s really painful.”
Those charged with first-degree murder and attempted robbery in the case are 18-year-olds Jahkil Jones, Keydrick R. Parker and Shyheim Smiles; 17-year-old Corey Williams Jr.; and 16-year-old Shaiheim R. Murray, all of Wilson. A 15-year-old was also charged with first-degree murder and attempted robbery.
Two of the teens charged in Luis’ killing also face additional charges in an armed robbery that police say occurred the day before. Murray and Parker are charged with armed robbery and larceny of a motor vehicle in connection to the Cameron Road incident, police said.
‘CARED A LOT FOR OTHERS’
Luis, who was Beddingfield High School student and Junior ROTC cadet, had plans to go into the military. While he was only 16 years old and a young father, he worked to provide for his daughter. He also loved his family and often helped his little sister with her school work.
“He helped me get ready for presentations and essays,” Emily, said. “He cared a lot for others.”
His laugh was infectious, she said.
Luis’ best friend, Ana Baltazar, said the two grew up together, and their families are close.
“We did everything together,” she said. “We talked about everything. We worked together in the fields. We shared most of our secrets and kept them as best friends do.”
Luis always gave her sound advice, too. He also told her to never stop following her dreams. Ana, who will graduate from Wilson Early College Academy next year, also plans to go into the military.
“He was just a really good person,” she said.
A SOLEMN MOMENT
Luis’ 9-year-old cousin, Hillary Flores, stood in front of his grave Saturday. She began to sing. Her angelic voice moved those around her. More tears were shed. Many embraced.
When Hillary finished the last note of the song, the 9-year-old ran into her mother’s arms and cried, too.
Luis’ 1-year-old daughter, Melody, was also there Saturday. She held a small red flower in her hand. She walked over to her daddy’s grave and sat down, too young to understand she will never see him again.
Luis’ father said the arrests of the teens in his son’s death had been difficult to grasp.
They are also young. While he believes they will one day get justice for their loved one on earth, they also hold true another thing.
“We know God’s justice is higher and more powerful than this,” he said.
Before they left Luis’ gravesite Saturday, family and friends took another moment to remember the boy they loved so much.
As the sun shined down and the wind blew, they released white balloons and watched them disappear into the sky.