Two San Diego teenagers and their Tijuana friend who set out for Ensenada for a Friday barbecue were shot and killed execution-style early Sunday at a Tijuana apartment complex, according to family members, school officials and Mexican media reports.
The victims were Christopher Alexis Gomez, 17, a football player in his senior year at O’Farrell Charter High School in Encanto; Juan Suarez-Ojeda, who graduated from Ingenuity Charter School in Encanto earlier this year; and an 18-year-old Tijuana man whose name was not available, according to Gomez’s cousin Katheryn Garcia.
The trio had gone together to a party in Ensenada on Friday and were supposed to return that same night.
A Tijuana police detective told Gomez’s family that the three teens were tortured before they were shot Sunday, Garcia said.
There was no initial indication of what might have led to the brutal killings.
According to Tijuana media reports, gunfire erupted around 5 a.m. Sunday at the Lomas Verdes housing complex in south-central Tijuana. When police arrived, they found three young men dressed only in their underwear lying dead in front of an apartment door.
An initial investigation suggested a group of armed men had forcibly moved the three teens at gunpoint, made them kneel and shot them each in the head, according to Tijuana news site Punto Norte.
Gomez’s cousin described the 17-year-old as “an innocent boy” who was the “sweetest, most selfless person.” He recently got his first job cleaning cars at a parking lot near the San Diego International Airport and planned to graduate from O’Farrell Charter next year before joining the Marines, Garcia said.
“We’re all in disbelief that this happened,” Garcia said through tears in a phone interview Wednesday night. “This was his first time going over to Tijuana or Ensenada.”
Gomez was born and raised in San Diego and was not well-traveled, his cousin said, adding that he’d been to Mexico only once before, when their families traveled together in 2016 to visit other family members in Morelia, the capital of the central state of Michoacan.
According to his family, Gomez had headed out Friday with Suarez-Ojeda, who was dating Gomez’s sister. Joined by the Tijuana teen, the trio apparently made it to the barbecue in Ensenada, according to those who were there. But the San Diego teens did not make it back to the U.S. that night as expected.
The Tijuana teen reportedly called his mother early Saturday and told her they were safe but had lost their cellphones, Garcia said. That was the last anyone heard from the group.
Family members contacted Baja California authorities and frantically searched for the missing teenagers over the weekend, Garcia said. On Sunday night, Tijuana police told them about the three bodies found outside the Lomas Verdes apartment.
“We were still holding out hope it wasn’t them,” Garcia said.
But Gomez’s uncle went to a Tijuana morgue Monday and confirmed his nephew’s identity.
Later that afternoon, news reached O’Farrell Charter School about the gruesome slayings.
“It’s been pretty devastating for students and staff,” Superintendent Jonathan Dean said Wednesday night. “It’s a tough situation.”
Suarez-Ojeda and Gomez both began attending O’Farrell Charter Schools in the same year, when Suarez-Ojeda was in 7th grade and Gomez was in 6th grade. Four of Suarez-Ojeda’s siblings and Gomez’s younger brother still attend the schools.
Dean and his staff made social workers and counselors available Wednesday. The high school’s senior class of about 135 students was planning to create a memorial Thursday.
The superintendent described Gomez as a “really nice, good kid” who was a leader this year during the football team’s inaugural season.
“He was so hard working, always helping his parents out,” Garcia said of her cousin, who she described as being more of a little brother. “Nobody had a bad thing to say about him, he was just so goofy, happy and always smiling.
“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.”