Hours before he disappeared on Christmas Eve, Luis Fernando Orellana Ruano spoke with his mother in Guatemala and told her one day he would go home to visit. The 18-year-old had been approved for a green card, his older brother said Friday.
And now his parents will never see their youngest son alive again.
Boston police found him stabbed to death that day near the Sartori Memorial Stadium in East Boston, and relatives and friends say his death remains a mystery. The sometimes rebellious teenager had struggled to find his footing in America, but in recent weeks he had found a new path to a possible career fixing motorcycles. The day he died, he borrowed money from his brother in Massachusetts, wished him a Merry Christmas, and said he planned to spend the holidays at a foster home in Lynn.
“He was getting better. He was changing,” said his older brother, 31, a construction worker in Massachusetts who asked not to be identified because he fears for his safety. He said his family has not been able to hold a funeral because they are trying to raise money to send the body home.
“They want to see him one last time,” he said.
Orellana Ruano was the youngest of five brothers born to coffee farmers in San Jose Acatempa, a town in Guatemala near the border with El Salvador. The family was poor but tight-knit, and with greater aspirations than the $14 a day they each earned cutting coffee to sell. One by one, some of the brothers came to the United States to work.
Orellana Ruano set off on his own three years ago after finishing primary school. He had always been fearless but obedient in Guatemala, where he lived with his parents and unmarried brothers. He wanted to work.
But in the United States, Orellana Ruano lacked structure and the extended family that had kept him in line. At first, he lived with a brother in Florida, but then the two moved north to Massachusetts and shared a basement apartment in the Boston area.
They had to move when the city said the basement was an illegal apartment. Orellana Ruano returned to Florida for a few months and stayed with friends, losing touch with his family, then moved back to Massachusetts, where a police officer found him sleeping in a park and connected him with social workers who helped him.
He briefly attended Chelsea High School in 2016, according to the school district, and then transferred to Lynn. His brother said gang members threatened Orellana Ruano, but he did not believe his brother was in a gang.
More recently Orellana Ruano lived in a foster home in Lynn. He attended Lynn English High School, but he struggled there, too, and shortly before his death had found a new route, through YouthBuild, a Cambridge program that he hoped would teach him to fix motorcycles.
Friends and family recall Orellana Ruano as a sweet young man who missed his mother. But he was also full of teenage rebellion at the worst possible time, when he was striking out on his own in a new country.
“We tried to give him advice,” his brother said, tears in his eyes. “He didn’t want anyone telling him what to do.”
Sometimes Orellana Ruano attended the Nueva Vision church in Everett with his brothers, greeting parishioners with hugs and listening patiently to their advice. Other times he bristled at the rules his older brothers set for him — like curfews — and wanted to break out on his own.
In Guatemala, his brothers knew his friends. But in Massachusetts, Orellana Ruano was more of a loner and never introduced them to his friends.
A church leader who is helping Orellana Ruano’s family said his case is an example of how things can go wrong for youths who distance themselves from their families.
“He wanted to run his own life,” said Fany Carcamo. “It’s deceiving to young people who don’t see the consequences of their actions.”
Orellana Ruano was one of two teenagers found fatally stabbed in East Boston this month.
Suffolk prosecutors on Thursday identified a 16-year-old found dead in Belle Isle Marsh Reservation on Dec. 9 as Carlos Villatoro-Nunez of East Boston. Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes said Villatoro-Nunez, 16, had only been in the United States six months.
Richard Weir, spokesman for Boston Public Schools, said Villatoro-Nunez was a BPS student and had only been in school since September. He would not say which school he attended.
Police say they suspect the recent killings are linked to an ongoing feud between rival gangs in the area, such as the MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang.
Police also said investigators are trying to determine if gang members lured Orellana Ruano to East Boston before killing him and whether the deaths are connected to at least three others since September 2015 that police believe are gang-related.
Orellana is among tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have fled violence and poverty in Central America in recent years.Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti.