Three days before police found his body on Christmas Eve near the Sartori Memorial Stadium in East Boston, Luis Fernando Orellana Ruano had stopped by YouthBuild, a training center in Cambridge.
Things were not going well for him at Lynn English High School. He needed an alternative, and was interested in learning more about the center’s education and job training progams.
“He was someone you could almost mold into the person you wanted him to be,” said Daniel Cortez, a community engagement specialist who had connected Orellana Ruano to the program. “He was very humble. I saw him moving forward.”
And Orellana Ruano, 18, an immigrant from Central America, saw a future for himself here, too.
On Dec. 21, he met with staff at YouthBuild, which serves people who are out of school and interested in learning new skills, Cortez said.
Orellana Ruano hoped to turn his love of motorcycles into a possible career.
“He smiled at the thought,” Cortez said.
But Orellana Ruano’s hopes met a tragic end; police found his body in East Boston.
Orellana Ruano was one of two teenagers who had been found fatally stabbed in East Boston this month.
Suffolk prosecutors on Thursday identified the 16-year-old found dead in Belle Isle Marsh Reservation on Dec. 9 as Carlos Villatoro-Nunez, of East Boston.
The teens’ deaths have deeply shaken East Boston, where on a rain-soaked Thursday night, community organizers held a vigil at the stadium.
Attendees placed candles, flowers, and a miniature Christmas tree near the spot where Orellana Ruano’s body was discovered.
Claudia Sierra, 44, a vigil organizer, said the recent deaths show that “these kids need our help.”
Camilo Hernandez, 38, who immigrated from Colombia 16 years ago, said he understands the challenges faced by new arrivals, particularly young people.
“Being 18 years old, it’s when you start to project your hopes and dreams,” said Hernandez, another vigil organizer.
Community members must strengthen ties with government agencies and schools to help vulnerable teens, he added. “We came together to reflect,” Hernandez said. “And come up with strategies to make 2017 a better year.”
Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who attended the vigil, said investigators believe the recent killings could be linked to an ongoing feud between rival gangs in the area.
“As we’ve seen in the past, some of them have been involved in the MS-13 [and] 18th Street gang feud,” Evans said, speaking to reporters. “Given the characteristics of these last two, and the methods [by which] their lives were so tragically taken, I think that’s clearly the direction we’re looking at.”
Boston Police have said they are searching for connections between the two killings, and any potential involvement of the rival gangs. The street gang MS-13 is known to use machetes, knives, and chains to kill their victims.
“The way he was killed, the method — it was violent — seems to match the M.O. of what these kids do,” Evans said, speaking about Orellana Ruano at a press briefing earlier Thursday.
Evans said that investigators are trying to determine if gang members lured Orellana Ruano to East Boston before killing him. Investigators are looking into “whether he was being pressured or not.”
Investigators are also looking into whether the two recent killings are connected to the deaths of three other teenage boys in the neighborhood since September 2015, at least three of which police believe were gang-related.
Investigators do not believe Villatoro-Nunez’ death was random. His body was discovered nearly a month after his family reported him missing.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office said it has stepped up anti-violence efforts in East Boston, meeting with area officials and reaching out to young people, including students at Umana Academy.
Orellana Ruano was one of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who in recent years have fled violence and poverty in Central America. He told police he was from El Salvador but told Chelsea school officials, where he attended Chelsea High for six weeks this year, that he was from Guatemala, according to Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes.
Orellana Ruano was living with a sponsor until that relationship dissolved and the teenager was homeless, Kyes said. A Chelsea Police officer found him sleeping in a park last December and connected him to Chelsea Hub, a program that helps at-risk people with education, housing, and services.
Cortez, a Hub coordinator, described Orellana Ruano, as a charming, respectful young man with an irresistible smile. He had two brothers in Chelsea, who told Cortez they supported Orellana Ruano as “much as they could and then he disengaged.”
With help from the Hub and the state Department of Children and Families, Orellana Ruano was placed into a group home before moving to a foster home in Lynn. Cortez said Orellana Ruano was shocked by the level of support he received from people like himself and others.
Cortez said Orellana Ruano has a brother in Florida, where he learned to love motorcycles.
“He was a good kid in a difficult situation,” Cortez said. “Who knows what trauma he’s experienced and how he’s wrestling with that. He always wanted to do the right thing. I don’t know what was going on that ultimately led to his death.”
Cortez said funds are being raised to send Orellana Ruano’s body to Guatemala at his mother’s request.