FOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly reported the date of the funeral for Carlos Vigil, 17, of Los Lunas, who was an anti-bullying advocate. The funeral occurred on July 20. It is not being held on July 27 as the article stated.
Los Lunas teenager takes his own life after enduring years of teasing and bullying
LOS LUNAS – Carlos Vigil was kind, gentle and giving. He was loving, understanding, forgiving and affectionate.
While many people remember the 17-year-old Los Lunas teenager fondly, it’s what he thought about himself in the end that his family and friends can’t understand.
Carlos was a passionate young man, full of promise and motivation and lived his life to help others. But he also endured years of teasing and bullying.
And on Saturday he decided to take his own life.
What is so baffling to friends and family is that Carlos had found what appeared to be an outlet. He had become a young leader at Warehouse 508, a youth art space in Downtown Albuquerque, and he was active in a youth government group that took him to North Carolina just last week where he spoke out against the bullying he had been tormented by all his life.
His family says how he died doesn’t define who Carlos was. His legacy, his mother says, is the purpose he found near the end of his life.
He had hoped to become a lawyer and politician – first at the Roundhouse and then on Capitol Hill.
“He found his talent,” his mother, Jacqueline, said. “He knew what he wanted and he was pursuing it. He wanted to make a difference.”
After three days on life support, Carlos Vigil died Tuesday morning in an Albuquerque hospital. He donated his organs, which have already been transplanted into at least two people.
His parents say after years of constant bullying, it was just too much for Carlos to endure.
“He wanted to be accepted by everyone, but all he needed was to be accepted by himself,” his father, Ray, said through tears as he sat in the back pew of San Clemente Catholic Church in Los Lunas. “I believe we instilled everything that was right in him; we just couldn’t prepare him for society’s cruel ways.”
“Because Carlos suffered for so many years, every day was challenging to us because he was in so much pain,” his mother said.
Carlos posted his last words to the world on Twitter at 3:06 p.m., July 13. In part they read, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to love someone or have someone love me. … The kids in school are right, I am a loser, a freak, and a fag and in no way is that acceptable for people to deal with. I’m sorry for not being a person that would make someone proud. I’m free now.”
Never have last words been more wrong. Hours after being taken off life support, hundreds of Carlos’ former classmates, friends and family members gathered in the Los Lunas High School auditorium to remember the young man, who he was and all that he could have been.
Carlos had transferred back and forth between Los Lunas High School and Valley High School in Albuquerque, and the audience reflected that. One section of the bleachers was packed with the maroon and gold of the Valley Vikings while Los Lunas Tigers, old and new, filled out the ranks. Many wore T-shirts with two simple words emblazoned on the back: “We care!”
The people who knew and loved Carlos spoke, their voices ripped and raw with emotion. They reiterated Carlos’ message and legacy loud and clear.
The bullying must stop.
After nearly two hours of memories and tears, Carlos’ father, Ray, closed the ceremony with a call to action.
“Next time you see someone being bullied, get together like you are now. Get together and go to their house, knock on their door,” he said. “You might not even know them but introduce yourselves. You might meet another Carlos. And we don’t want to lose another Carlos.”
His parents say Carlos, starting when he was 8, was bullied by classmates who teased him about the way he looked, focusing on his weight, his glasses and his lazy eye.
“He would get dirt kicked into his face, he was told he was not worth nothing,” Ray said.
His mother said social media played a big part in his struggles. While at Los Lunas Middle School, someone created a fake Facebook page targeting Carlos.
“It was the most demeaning and gross thing I ever witnessed,” Ray said.
When Carlos was a freshman at Los Lunas High School, he was elected class president – a position his grandmother, Dolores Marquez, said he took very seriously.
“Carlos was very outspoken,” Marquez said. “He would stand up for the little guy.”
But after his freshman year, when his grades began to drop, he transferred to Valley High in Albuquerque.
At first, it went well. He joined mock trial and youth in government. But during the fall semester of Carlos’ junior year, he hit a roadblock, his father said, and he transferred back to Los Lunas in December 2012.
But it only lasted briefly and he wanted to go back to Valley.
His parents say that even though he was having problems, Carlos was excited about his upcoming senior year at Valley and attending the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs in North Carolina, an event for youth to present state and national legislation.
For weeks, Carlos prepared for his anti-bullying presentation. He would read his speech to his mother, and even while at the conference last week, they would text each other about ways to improve his presentation.
“He came back so full of life,” Jacqueline said. “He was amazing. He said he found his purpose in life. He found new people he could relate to.”
Carlos’ parents don’t know what happened between the time he returned from the conference to when his father found him at home Saturday.
But in the end, they said they believe their son was tired of defending himself – tired of trying to live up to other people’s standards.
“I want people to carry on his purpose and his mission and that’s to stop bullying,” Jacqueline said. “Fortunately, his purpose is being spread nationwide. His purpose, through his death, is being carried on, and I want people to know that the definition of bullying isn’t a playground fight. … It happens on the Internet, it happens in the workplace, it happens everywhere. We just need to respect each other as human beings.”
Valencia County News-Bulletin reporter Julia M. Dendinger contributed to this story.