Adrian Walker

No arrests, no answers

Globe Columnist / November 27, 2009

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Sergio Ibañez should be wrapping up his first semester at the University of Massachusetts about now, pursuing the degree he coveted in electrical engineering.

Instead, his family spent Wednesday at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester, mourning the first anniversary of his death. “I put new flowers on his grave and grieved,’’ his mother, Jean Diaz, said yesterday. “We had to relive everything again and try to be as grateful as possible that we had him here for 18 years.’’

Sergio, a star student-athlete at Charlestown High, was shot last year as he sat in a car in Roslindale. He had no police record - he didn’t even have a disciplinary record at school. Boston police believe the bullet was intended for someone else. His homicide is unsolved.

Sergio had transferred to Charlestown after his first brush with violence. That was between classes at Madison Park High School, when he was robbed at gunpoint. The thieves got away with all of $2 and a cheap cellphone. But because his mother feared retaliation after one of his assailants was arrested, transferring was the safest decision.

“Charlestown High wasn’t my choice,’’ she said, “but he thrived there.’’

He had excelled at sports all his life. He played baseball and basketball seriously, but he would try his hand at any sport - soccer, football, even hockey. He also played piano in his church, Spanish Church of God in Mission Hill.

He was the kind of kid that other kids followed. Felix G. Arroyo, the city councilor-elect, coached him and his brothers for years and remembers Sergio as a gifted leader. “He forced kids around him to behave the way he behaved,’’ Arroyo said. “There was no diva in him. He would do anything I asked, and so anyone else would do anything I asked.’’

Sergio was also a clown, imitating Jim Carrey and ruining serious family photos by refusing to be solemn. His mother maintains a collection of pictures in which everyone is serious except Sergio.

The day of the shooting, he was outside his grandmother’s house, having been called there by a cousin. The target may have been a cousin, William “Chino’’ Santos, an ex-convict who has been linked to the Latin Kings gang. Diaz said both Santos and another man, who resembled her son, were being targeted at the time. Santos was also shot, but survived.

The other man visited Diaz and her family a couple of days after Sergio was slain, to pay his respects. “The kid came in and said: ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry,’’ Diaz said. “It was my husband who said, ‘He’s the spitting image of Sergio, from the side.’ ’’

That the case is unsolved may be testament to the no-snitch culture of the streets. It’s hard to believe that two men targeted for killing have no idea who is after them. But Diaz said the two may have been in trouble with so many people that they don’t know who was targeting them that night.

At any rate, the anniversary of Sergio’s death has been understandably difficult. But Diaz said it is an important milestone.

“When he died, I told myself I would give myself one year to grieve for his death, and then I would celebrate his life,’’ she said.

Part of her grieving process has been the establishment of a scholarship to be given to a deserving student-athlete. One of Sergio’s former classmates, Pedro Valle Jr., was the first winner, , receiving $2,500.

Diaz has been overwhelmed by the support of Sergio’s friends and teachers, her church, and her colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she is a nurse.

Now that the anniversary is past, the family is planning a vacation. “It’s time for us to exhale,’’ Diaz said yesterday. “I think this is the time for the family to let go.’’

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at