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After perilous trek, a violent end

Cristofer Perez de la Cruz was about to return to Guatemala.
Cristofer Perez de la Cruz was about to return to Guatemala.

CHELSEA — Cristofer Perez de la Cruz’s life in the United States was brief and dangerous.

At age 14, he made a perilous trek from his native Guatemala to the Texas border, where he entered the United States illegally and alone in May 2014.

Just 20 months later, Perez de la Cruz, then 16, was dead.

Records show he was shot and stabbed with knives and a machete around 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 10 in East Boston, allegedly by four men described by federal prosecutors as being linked to MS-13, a violent street gang.

On Friday, those men were among 56 people charged in a federal indictment as more than 400 officers conducted predawn raids targeting the international gang in Boston and north of the city.

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While the arrests were being carried out in the Boston area, Perez de la Cruz’s body was back home in Guatemala, where he is buried in Cementerio San Jose in the southwest corner of the country.

He was headed home anyway, his mother, Ingrid, said Saturday. Life here had become too risky and Perez de la Cruz wanted to go back. He was waiting on paperwork to be completed so he could return.

Prosecutors allege MS-13 got to him first.

“He was so sweet,” said his aunt, Patricia De la Cruz, 38, on Saturday at her home in Chelsea. “He said he only wanted to go back to Guatemala . . . and [build] a house.”

Perez de la Cruz’s mother and aunt shared their memories of the teenager, who went by the nickname Peluka, a day after sitting in US District Court in Boston to see some of the men accused of killing him. Patricia De la Cruz translated Ingrid’s comments from Spanish.

Charged with Perez de la Cruz’s death are East Boston residents Edwin Diaz, 18, and Edwin Gonzalez, 20, and Chelsea residents Marvin Melgar, 21, and Jairo Perez, 24. Gonzalez is also accused of participating in the murder of 15-year-old Wilson Martinez, whose death was linked by prosecutors to MS-13.

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Five days after Perez de la Cruz died, prosecutors allege that Jairo Perez and Jose Vasquez, 22, the leader of a local MS-13 crew, attempted to hide evidence by burying knives, a machete, and bloody clothing worn during the crime.

The investigation into MS-13 has identified suspects in five killings, including the deaths of Perez de la Cruz and Martinez.

The other victims were Katerin Gomez, 35, who was killed by a stray bullet in Chelsea; Javier Ortiz, 29; and 15-year-old Irvin de Paz Castro of Chelsea.

Ingrid De la Cruz, 36, said the day before her son died, she was teaching him to cook because of his plans to return to Guatemala, where he would be more independent.

It was a familiar role for Perez de la Cruz.

His mother said her son was 4 years old when she left Guatemala with her daughter and moved to the United States. Perez de la Cruz lived with his great-grandmother until her death and then moved in with an aunt, Patricia De la Cruz said.

His mother used to call the aunt in Guatemala and ask, “Where is my baby?” The response was usually the same: “He’s not a baby anymore.”

“He was there alone,” Patricia De la Cruz said. Ingrid “tried a lot . . . to bring him here.”

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When he made the journey to the Texas border, Perez de la Cruz said the trip was scary, according to his mother and aunt. It took him a week to get to the United States. Then he stayed in Texas for 10 days before flying to Boston, they said.

When Perez de la Cruz arrived at Logan International Airport, his family said, they could not find him.

“He was lost in the airport. We were looking for him for 35 minutes,” Patricia De la Cruz said with a laugh. “I don’t know [what happened]. He doesn’t speak English.”

Perez de la Cruz’s relatives asked what he thought of the United States and he said he had imagined it differently from afar.

His mother just laughed.

Perez de la Cruz got a job at a bread company and enrolled in Chelsea High School, where his mother said he was happy but struggled because he could not speak English well.

His life took a turn, however, in May 2015 when he was stabbed and punched in Chelsea and treated at Massachusetts General Hospital for a “severe laceration” and other injuries, court records show.

In that assault, police said, he was with a 17-year-old on a bike when they were approached by two men who had been hiding behind a dumpster.

The teenager who was with Perez de la Cruz said the attackers had a knife and told him to run, according to Patricia De la Cruz. “But he didn’t have time to run,” she said.

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Police charged two Chelsea men with the assault: Brayan Galicia-Barillas, 18, and Domingo Tizol, 21. Both were named in the indictment unsealed Friday. Galicia-Barillas was charged in the killing of Gomez, the woman fatally struck by a stray bullet.

After the attack, Perez de la Cruz decided to return to Guatemala, his family said. The day before he died, he made shrimp fajitas with his mother and prayed with their pastor at their home.

That evening, Perez de la Cruz retreated to his bedroom, his mother said. Hours later, he was dead.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.