By BLAIR PADDOCK
Homicide Watch Chicago
Spending most of his time volunteering with the St. Gall Catholic Church youth group, Julio Cesar Garcia-Lara, 15, was a charismatic “natural born leader,” according to his godfather, Gary Graf.
“He was happy and full of enthusiasm, making the youth [at church] around him feel good about being young in Chicago,” Graf said.
Garcia-Lara’s life ended on June 12, shot to death while riding in the back of an SUV in the West Lawn neighborhood on the Southwest Side, according to Chicago Police.
Around 10:30 p.m., a white Dodge Charger started following the car Garcia-Lara was in on the 5900 block of South Pulaski, and someone started shooting. He was struck in the back and in the head, and died less than an hour later at Mount Sinai hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
“This just seems so out of line with the life he was living,” Graf said.
The Gage Park resident was not attending school, but would help out at the church, ushering in the morning mass. Since about age 10, he’d participated in the youth group at his church. The younger kids looked up to him as an inspiration, Graf said.
“He was the best reflection of the kids in the youth group,” Graf said. “The youth especially felt the sting of his death.”
Marissa Estrada was involved in the youth group, and recalled how spending time with Garcia-Lara at retreats was always enjoyable. He would consistently help with even the smallest tasks at church, always ready to lend a helping hand, she added.
“I didn’t believe [he died] at first,” Estrada said. “Even seeing him in the casket I couldn’t believe it.”
When not volunteering at the church, Garcia-Lara would spend time playing soccer, his friend Yvette Gallarzo said. He was going to be the godfather of her child.
“He was always goofing off, even when people were serious, to keep them positive,” Gallarzo said. “He would push away his own problems to help out others.”
Graf said he typically was a rebellious kid, having a hard time with authoritative figures. But in recent months, he’d started to grow up and mature. He was becoming more comfortable with himself and a more responsible person, he added.
“I sense that he was mature beyond his years, but was having difficulty being young in the adult world,” Graf said.
While the youth of the community struggle to cope with the death, Graf hopes kids are more cautious in the neighborhood.
“I hope the youth learn from this and are more careful,” Graf said. “It’s saddening that one bullet can destroy such a promising life like that.”