By John Lynds
After a hard start in life Luis Fernando Orellana Ruano, by all accounts, was trying to get his life back on track. The troubled teen that bounced between living with relatives to living in foster homes showed his fair share of teen rebellion and angst but through YouthBuild, a Cambridge program, he began learning how to fix motorcycles.
Sadly, his aspirations for a better life came too little too late.
Orellana Ruano, the son of Guatamlan coffee farmers, was identified as the teen that was stabbed to death on the steps of the bleachers at Memorial Stadium on Christmas Eve–a tragic end to a boy who could have had a bright future but unfortunately slipped through the cracks.
Last Thursday night, community organizers from One East Boston held a candlelight vigil for Orellana Ruano and the five other teens that have been killed in Eastie since fall 2015.
One East Boston’s Paul Rogers, who helped organize the vigil with Antonio Avanti, said coping with the sadness a community feels when it has lost a young soul to senseless violence is never easy–but it is particularly true when it happens during the holiday season.
“It’s rather unfortunate circumstances that we are here again for a vigil for the loss of a youth in our neighborhood and on our streets,” said Rogers. “We are just yards away from a (ball) field where so many youth get their start in sports and their start in dreams and aspirations and to think the night before Christmas another youth lost his dreams and aspirations steps away from that very field.”
Rogers said that it good that the community continues to come together as a close knit community when trying to make sense out of something senseless. However, Rogers said while the vigils help heal they are becoming all too common.
“We don’t want to have to do any more vigils like this,” said Rogers. “We’ve been to the wakes, to the funerals, we’ve held hands with family members and it’s not something that we like to do.”
Avanti then read the names of teens and adults that have been murdered in Eastie since 2015.
“Our prayers and our love goes out to these victims and tonight we stand here with people that would have helped them,” said Avanti referring to youth sports leaders, activists, police and public officials. “All they need to do is come to one of us and say ‘I’m having trouble in the streets, I’m having trouble in school and I need help’. The youth can talk to any one of us, family members can talk to any one of us.”
Avanti also pleaded with parents and guardians to keep teens close.
“Know where they are, know who they are with, know what time they will be home,” said Avanti. “The real trademark in these cases is bad communication between parents and their children. It is parenting, it is a tough job but it is our job as parents and we have to do it.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina said he had mixed emotions while listening to the names of the victims.
“This young boy fled his country for a better life, he fled because of the violence and poverty in his country and came here to seek a better way,” said an emotional LaMattina. “It is sad to think that when I was home on Christmas Eve celebrating my daughter’s birthday this young kid was murdered.”
LaMattina said the challenge for 2017 is to work with the youth, especially youth from Latin American countries, and introduce them to the dozens of programs in Eastie that help keep kids off the street like Salesian Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, Zumix and others.
“It wasn’t easy for my family when they fled poverty in Italy and came to the U.S. for a better life,” said LaMattina. “But there was a community here to help. There are so many opportunities for youth here in East Boston and our challenge in 2017 is to show them there is another life that does not need to include gangs.”
Sen. Joseph Boncore added that as the names were read of the victims of violence he realized it could be any one’s child, or niece, or nephew.
“It seems all too often in this past year we’ve had to grieve together,” said Boncore. “We understand as a community these names could have been any of our children or any of our nieces or any of our nephews but the reality is, as a community, they are our children. We will be judged as a community on how we care for our children who are sometimes our most vulnerable residents. While it may look dire we are finding a way forward together.”
East Boston Pop Warner football Vice President Adjie Burnett said that these youths’ lives could have been extended if more hands had reached out.
“It takes a village,” he said. “My program we take young children and bring them up in a structured program that keeps them off the streets even if it for four or five hours. But for those four or five hours they are off the streets. They are safe. They are with kids their own age and adults. They are learning not only a sport but lessons not only important in life but lessons they will take with them to school and to the workplace when they get older.”
Members of One East Boston said that after January 15, the group is planning a meeting with officials to discuss violence in the community and seek to find any additional concrete steps the community can take to help prevent the loss of more youth in Eastie to violence.