'He was the sweetest': Friends gather to remember Glenbrook South wrestler killed one year ago
The small group of friends tried to keep the atmosphere light.
Such a challenge.
Last Thursday was the anniversary of Elias Valdez, 15, being found in the grassy parkway on the 1200 block of Greenwood Road at about 7 p.m. Aug. 5, 2020.
A resident of an unincorporated area of Glenview, the incoming sophomore at Glenbrook South High School died that night while being operated on at Lutheran General Hospital from stab wounds to the chest.
Two days later the Cook County medical examiner's office ruled the crime a homicide. The Glenview Police Department said it was the village's first murder case since 2004.
Those items are fresh in the minds of Valdez's family and friends, some of whom convened at a small memorial for Valdez on Greenwood Road where his body was discovered. The memorial includes flowers, candles and stuffed animals surrounding a white cross, upon which a photograph of a smiling Valdez is posted.
On the anniversary of his death, his sisters, Elizabeth and Paola, and a few close friends remembered Elias.
"You know what, we ate his two favorite chips (Dinamita Doritos and Takis) and were talking about our memories with him and kind of making it like he was there with us. (Stories about) how joyful he was and sometimes he would do stunts just to make everyone laugh. Every time he came inside a room, he would say something or do something and everyone would just be joyful," said Naomi Vazquez, who had dated Valdez before his death.
"He was the sweetest," said Vasquez, 16 and an incoming junior at Glenbrook South, where she's a section leader of the Marching Titans Color Guard.
"We spent Valentine's Day together and he was always very kind and like a protective boyfriend. We always tried being together and always were hanging out together. I was actually the first girl that he ever brought home. He introduced me to his parents and his sisters, so I think it was probably, like, serious to the both of us," she said.
The group visiting the memorial tried to keep the mood in line with the picture of the smiling boy attached to the cross.
"It was more of a positive, like we are trying to go on," Vazquez said. "You know, life goes on and it's really hard to go on, but we liked to think about the good memories of him and not exactly think about why this happened, or how."
Such reasons will eventually be heard in juvenile court in Skokie. A 16-year-old juvenile was charged with second-degree murder in the case, and placed on electronic home monitoring. It is Herald policy not to name juveniles charged with the crime.
Several status hearings have already been held, with another scheduled for Aug. 18.
At this time the discovery is not complete, said David Kerstein, an attorney handling the defense along with attorneys Laura Golub and Sheldon Sorosky. Edith Rios, who represented Valdez's mother, Marcela Fierros, did not respond to phone messages for this story.
Fierros or Elizabeth Valdez also did not return a request for an interview; in a brief comment Aug. 5, Elizabeth Valdez said: "We're not feeling that good today, and any other days."
The home monitoring of the person charged with the crime drew accusations of preferential treatment. Subsequent protests -- organized by 2020 Glenbrook South graduate Oscar Ocampo through the Facebook site Justice for Elias Valdez -- were held at the Glenview Police Station and at the Skokie courthouse in August and September 2020, respectively.
No protests have been held since then.
"Sometimes a protest is too much," Vazquez said of the grief involved.
She has made a new Instagram account, @justiceforeliasvaldez, that aims to keep Elias Valdez's name and memory alive.
"I think that it hurts a lot when people say, 'Oh, Elias,' they don't really know him and I understand that. I certainly have talks with people and they say, 'I forgot about him' or 'I forgot that happened,'" Vazquez said.
"It takes me a long time to move on, a hard time to move on from him and I bet his family is, too, which is why we want others to help us because we can't do it alone."
Despite the warm memories and flaming hot chips Aug. 5 at Valdez's memorial on Greenwood Road in Glenview -- an otherwise "calm place where you can be out walking during the night and nothing will happen to you," Vazquez believed -- this was an anniversary she'd rather not celebrate.
"It's been really hard, it's difficult," Vazquez said. "I, myself, any time that I am joyful or happy, I actually feel sad because he can't be here with me and go into high school together again."