WALTHAM — A Waltham teenager who excelled at sports and dreamed of joining the Marines was fatally shot Thursday night in the parking lot of an apartment complex, authorities said, an apparent homicide that shocked his friends who knew him as a popular athlete with a bright future.
Tyler Zanco, 17, was found at 10:08 p.m. in the parking lot of the Gardencrest apartment complex, a sprawling collection of brick buildings on 34 acres off Linden Street, said a statement from Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office.
“No arrests have been made, and the investigation is ongoing,” the statement said. “However, at this point, authorities do not believe this was a random attack.” Officials at Ryan’s office did not elaborate.
On Friday afternoon, police cruisers sat outside Waltham High School, where Zanco was a senior. School officials informed parents in the morning of the death and canceled state standardized exams that students were scheduled to take.
Zanco’s friends said students wept in the halls as word of his death spread. Many had to leave early.
“It was just too much,” said Lisa Cannavino, a 16-year-old junior at Minuteman High School in Lexington, who was friends with Zanco and lives in Waltham. “Everybody is sad and shocked that this actually happened to someone so dear. Nobody can believe it was him.”
Waltham School Superintendent Susan M. Nicholson released a statement saying the school would be open Saturday for students or family members who want to meet with counselors.
Friends said they are struggling to understand why anyone would have targeted Zanco, who had a strong work ethic, was close to his family, and was considering wrestling on a college team or joining the military.
The night before he was killed, Zanco was at Waltham High with his mother, being honored for his achievements as captain of the wrestling team, Connavino said.
He worked out vigorously, lifting weights in his basement and running late at night through the streets of Waltham.
Mario Tellez, a friend who graduated from Waltham High in 2013, said he often saw Zanco in sweats, running up Moody Street near the town common.
“ ‘Dude, what are you doing? It’s 10 o’clock,’ ” Tellez would say. Zanco, breathless, would grin back and keep running.
Athletic and strapping, he was known as Tank to some friends. But he was good-
natured, laid-back, and not one to pick a fight, said Tellez’s brother, Fernando, 18, who took auto technical classes with Zanco at Waltham High.
“He wouldn’t mess with you if you didn’t mess with him,” Tellez said.
Fernando Tellez described Zanco’s almost childlike fascination with the Marines. Zanco would always talk to Marine recruiters who visited the high school. When their auto mechanics teacher was not looking, Zanco and Tellez would sneak out of class with wrenches and rags. They pretended the rags were hand grenades and the wrenches were guns.
“ ‘Yo, I’m going in! Cover me!’ ” Zanco would yell, Tellez recalled, laughing.
Andy Merritt, the former Waltham News Tribune editor who was paired with Zanco two years ago as part of a mentoring program, said the young man always dreamed of joining the military, but had recently begun thinking seriously about college. The mentoring program, he said, was for students with potential who needed a little extra guidance to achieve their goals. The last time the two saw each other, Merritt said, the young man was full of good news.
“He was telling me how he had just gotten a letter from a college, I think from a coach at Hofstra, asking about him as far as wrestling. And they were talking to him about coming up to see the college and checking that out,” Merritt said. He was considering tech schools and the military, too, Merritt said.
“On any given day, he wanted to be a Navy SEAL or an Army Ranger, or a Marine, and he probably could have done any of them,” Merritt said.
Merritt was at a loss to explain Zanco’s death.
“The questions really outnumber the answers here,” he said.
The teenager was extremely close to his parents and younger brother and fiercely protective of his friends, said his friend Cannavino. She recalled how he would wrap her in a hug whenever she was distressed.
“It’s a complete shock that one minute he’s at this banquet with his mother and the next day he’s not even here,” she said. “I just can’t stop thinking about what I would say to him if he was still here. I’d say, ‘What were you doing? Are you OK? I miss you.’ ”
Zanco’s uncle, Anthony Ferranti, said that the whole family was in shock.
“He had no problems; everyone loved him,” Ferranti said.
His nephew had done karate before he began wrestling, said Ferranti, and the whole family was proud when he made captain of the wrestling team this year.
Mary McManama, 75, who lives in an apartment near the apparent shooting scene, was watching television when she heard at least three gunshots.
“I thought at first it was somebody fighting with metal,” she said. “Anyone who tells you that the sound of a gun is like fireworks, it’s not at all. It’s metal on metal.”
George Moore, 72, another nearby resident, said he did not hear the shots but came outside when he realized the parking lot had filled with emergency vehicles. He could see police lights trained on Lyman Pond, a small body of water behind the parking lot that Bentley College students usually walk past to get to campus. Officers were also looking in the bushes, he said.
The neighborhood was rattled by a shooting in November, when a 20-year-old man was shot at 117 Middlesex Circle. The man survived.
“I feel safe at night. My wife doesn’t. I’ll tell you that,” Moore said