At only 15, Owen Chavez knew what it was like to live on the streets, kick a substance habit, join a gang, leave a gang, get dragged by a car.
He knew what it was like to navigate the bureaucracies of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department. Two weeks ago, he knew what it was like to take an oath and become an American.
And, on Tuesday night, he knew he was going to die after he was struck by as many as four bullets in an apparent drive-by shooting.
Knowing he would die, his mother said Wednesday, Owen wanted to go to her house instead of the hospital when a friend drove him from the scene.
“He passed away in a really violent death. It wasn’t even quick, you know what I mean?” Susie Chavez said Wednesday as she wept in front of the Southeast Albuquerque home where he was shot. “Instead of trying to get to the hospital, he tried to get home. … I think he wanted to go home and say goodbye instead of going to the hospital.”
Police haven’t found a motive for the shooting, but they have asked the public to be on the lookout for a vehicle with wooden or brown trim, green paint and chrome rims. Family members and neighbors said the car that fled the scene is a gold or silver sedan.
Police said the teen was shot at around 10:30 p.m. at a home on the 200 block of Bethel Avenue SE, where a relative of his mother’s fiance lives. A friend then started to drive Chavez to his mother’s home nearby but called an ambulance before they got there. The teen later died at the hospital.
Family members said the shooter walked up to the car in which Chavez was riding, said, “Where’s my money?” then fired.
Neighbors heard two gunshots; family members heard four.
Chavez was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and came to the United States when he was a baby. Susie Chavez has been a single mother for 13 years, she said, and spent 14 months in prison.
She acknowledged she had problems with drugs before going to prison.
“I know he missed me. His only way out was to join gangs and see me pop up whenever he did something wrong,” she said.
She’s been sober and clean of prescription pills for two years and out of prison for 1-½ years, she said. In that time, she successfully worked to get her son back from the CYFD system, she said, and is hoping to get her 4-year-old back, too. She said she and Owen were to have met with the department in two weeks to make the arrangement “official.”
The teen’s brother, Adrian Vasquez, 11, hugged his mom Wednesday as she talked about Owen’s time on the streets and how he was dragged by a car, drank alcohol, joined a gang and got arrested on a substance abuse charge. He was in the juvenile detention center when she got out of prison, she said.
When he got out of the juvenile jail, his mother said, he was scared of ever having to return, so he ended the gang lifestyle and focused on becoming a citizen and going back to school. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and depression, she said, and was seeing psychologists.
The boy’s mother also said Owen and another teen had gotten into fights after the teen stole his bike. That conflict was resolved, she said, when Owen stole the bike back.
“They squashed it there, supposedly,” she said.
But recently, Owen and the boy had gotten in other fights, she said. She said the other teen might be associated with a gang that has ties to Juárez, Mexico.
“My son beat him up again,” she said. “My son, he’s not going to turn the other cheek.”
She said Owen earlier Tuesday night had been playing video games with an 18-year-old friend, whom she described as a “bad influence.” Police said Wednesday that they had questioned an 18-year-old friend of Owen’s.
Chavez said Owen dreamed of being a music producer, but he was practical and also had plans to go into construction and get trade skills in order to save some money.
She remembers the moment he was born as one of the happiest moments of her life. “When he was born, he was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced,” she said. “I was only 16, and that just gave me a reason to live.”