When San Diego teen, 17-year-old Christopher Alexis Gomez and his best friend, 18-year-old Juan Suarez-Ojeda visited Tijuana in Mexico for a vacation they knew that the area they were staying in had a high crime rate.
The friends had no criminal record and were not known to authorities in Mexico. Apart from a questionable charge for car theft back in the US, these friends appeared to be on vacation, though the trip didn’t go as planned…
While Gomez was in his senior year at O’Farrell Charter High School, he was far more interested in pursuing his passion for Football than anything else. His buddy Suarez-Ojeda was a little more studious than his friend but not by much. Suarez-Ojeda had also graduated from Ingenuity Charter School on the shared Encanto campus earlier this year. A break was coming up, so the two teens decided to book a vacation to Tijuana in Mexico. They had Mexican roots and had visited family in the country before.
Tijuana is a border city in Mexico, just south of California. It’s main street, called Avenida Revolución, is full of souvenir shops for tourists as well as many lively bars and restaurants offering local cuisine at reasonable prices. Despite some of its charm though, this border city is rife with crime and enjoys the notorious honor of having one of the highest murder rates in Mexico.
Why the pair decided to find accommodation in the dangerous Lomas Verdes neighborhood is anyone’s guess. While the area is considered middle-class, it is also known to be a high-crime area in central Tijuana with much drug-dealing and domestic violence. The area is known as a “bedroom community” as the majority of the residents living there commute to México City for work.
Just a few days after the two friends arrived at their holiday destination they were found murdered outside the complex where they were staying. The semi-naked bodies of the two teens and a third local teen, having all been shot execution-style by a single bullet to the head were found. The bodies were found during the early hours of the morning, and no witnesses had seen or heard anything the night before.
When Jorge Alvarez, the head of the Baja California Attorney General’s Office in Tijuana, gave a press conference on the case, he was obviously hiding some vital information. He said that preliminary information indicated that the two San Diegans knew the neighborhood where they were killed well. They had family there and were visiting them during their trip.
Alvarez also confirmed to reporters in a heated exchange of questions and answers that the teens visited the area regularly. “They did not live there, but they came to visit family members, one of them apparently did so frequently,” Alvarez said according to a San Diego Union-Tribune report.
Angel Said Robles was a 17-year-old Tijuana high-schooler was also murdered at the same place, but the connection between Robles and the two American teens was unclear. They knew each other, as confirmed by Gomez’s cousin, Katheryn Garcia, but the connection between the three was tenuous and they were likely just good friends.
Despite the police’s take that Gomez had visited Tijuana many times before, his cousin Garcia claimed that he had never visited the city before. She claimed Gomez was raised in San Diego and had only visited Mexico once. On that trip, he traveled with his family to visit other family members in Morelia, the capital of the central state of Michoacan, she said.
Garcia described her cousin as “an innocent boy” who was the “sweetest, most selfless person.” He had recently gotten a job cleaning cars at a parking lot near the San Diego International Airport and following graduation, planned to join the marines. “We’re all in disbelief that this happened,” Garcia said during a phone interview.
Gomez’s family reported that Gomez headed out Friday with Suarez-Ojeda, who was dating his sister. Robles joined the two friends, and the trio attended a barbecue with friends and family on that night at a residence in Ensenada. The San Diego teens never made it home, and when Robles called his mother, he told her the boys were safe but had lost their cellphones.
As soon as the families contacted the Baja California authorities to report the teens missing, a frantic search was initiated to locate them. Tragically, at the same time approximately, the Tijuana police had found the bodies of three teens who had all been shot outside the Lomas Verdes apartments.
Before the bodies were positively identified, the families were holding on to hope that the boys were still alive. “We were still holding out hope it wasn’t them,” Garcia said. But as soon as Gomez’s uncle went to identify the bodies at the morgue, their worst fears were confirmed. The tragic news soon reached the administration and students of the O’Farrell Charter High School.
Superintendent of the O’Farrell Charter School, Jonathan Dean, was also contacted by reporters following the incident. “It’s been pretty devastating for students and staff,” he said. “It’s a tough situation.” Meanwhile, Dean and his staff ensured that social workers and counselors were available for students should they wish to talk to someone. The school’s senior class of 135 students also held a meeting to discuss plans for a memorial service.
According to superintendent Dean, Gomez was a “really nice, good kid.” He explained that the teen was a leader during this year’s football team’s inaugural season and was even considering entering professional football at some point. According to John Van Houten, a former teacher and basketball coach at O’Farrell, Gomez also liked basketball and enjoyed coming to watch his friends play.
While Van Houten explained that Gomez came to all the school’s basketball games, his cousin explained that he was a hard worker and had high hopes for the future. “He was so hard working, always helping his parents out,” Garcia said. “Nobody had a bad thing to say about him, he was just so goofy, happy and always smiling,” she added.
Garcia spoke more about the tragedy that had befallen her family. “I know how this story sounds, like something that people hear on the news: You go to Tijuana, and this happens,” Garcia said. “But he was the most selfless, kindest boy ever … This shouldn’t have happened to him.” His freind, Suarez-Ojeda, did finally graduate too but he reportedly had issues at school.
When Suarez-Ojeda dropped out of school at O’Farrell, Dean called his mother in for a meeting. He said she was instrumental in convincing him to enroll at Ingenuity, an independent study program that shares a campus with O’Farrell. It was a team effort, but it paid off, and the teen received his high school diploma.
Robles’ uncle told reporters that his nephew attended the Jose Vasconcelos high school in Tijuana and worked part-time as a barista at a coffee shop to make some extra cash. He was earning money to buy a car and had hoped to attend college to become an industrial engineer. “His name Angel was what he was to all his family,” his uncle said. “A great kid with good grades in school, kind, lovable. He will be missed.”
The uncle explained that the family felt the murder must have been a case of mistaken identity. “His whole family is broken,” he said. In the meantime, Mexican officials say they are working closely with US authorities. “When we have this type of incident, we work together with US authorities,” Alvarez said. “They help us, and we help them.”
When the faculty at O’Farrell found out that the families barely had enough cash to fly the teens home for burial, they immediately set up a GoFundMe page to help out. “We are asking for donations to help both families cover the funeral arrangements and any other unexpected costs,” reads the page. The case is ongoing as Mexican authorities do what they can to locate and apprehend the perpetrators of this horrific triple-murder.