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Mother grieves for 13-year-old son killed as best friend showed off gun

January 21, 2019

A grieving Jennifer Valdez went to bed hours after her 13-year-old son was killed Saturday. She laid her head on his pillow.

Valdez’s son, Gabriel (Gabe) Fernandez, is among at least six children in the Houston area who have died by gunfire in the past three weeks. Police attributed three of those deaths to accidental gunfire.

A gun her son’s best friend was showing off accidentally fired and fatally struck him in the head, Valdez said. The shooting happened around 1:30 p.m. Saturday while Gabriel and his 15-year-old brother, Nicholas, were visiting the friend a street over.

The two boys had been gone only 15 minutes when the surviving brother called their mother in hysterics, she recounted Sunday afternoon while surrounded by loved ones at her Pasadena home.

“I answered the phone and he’s crying. He said, ‘Gabe’s dead. They shot him in the head and he’s dead.’”

Valdez and her boyfriend, Daniel Gonzalez, rushed to the home in the 2000 block of Linden Creek Lane and found children screaming and crying in the street.

Gonzalez got out of the car and demanded to know who shot the boy, while Valdez rushed inside to find him. She made her way to a shed on the property where her son’s friend had been showing off the weapon to four other teens, among them a girl and the Fernandez siblings.

“My son was laying on the floor. Two guys in there were doing CPR. I could see my son’s head blown,” Valdez said.

A neighbor who heard a commotion while doing yard work was one of the men doing mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions on Gabriel. His face was covered in the boy’s blood.

“He’s an angel because he tried his hardest to save my boy. It didn’t work, but he tried. I will love him forever for that,” Gonzalez said.

Valdez said she took over in giving her son CPR as she waited for first responders.

“I’m a nurse. I’m helping with compressions, holding his head. I could feel his heart. I could feel his pulse. I could feel him,” she said.

She rode alongside her child in the ambulance to Memorial Hermann, but Gabriel never made it to the hospital alive.

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A moment of laughter momentarily paused Valdez’s grief as she remembered her last conversation with her son. Gabriel was tough, shy and handsome, she said, pointing to his head of black hair which a family member likened to John Stamos’ — the “Full House” actor known for his youthful locks.

The boy, however, was unhappy with his straight hair.

“He wanted to go to the mall. He wanted to go get a stupid perm,” she said, chuckling. “So ridiculous.”

He was young and hadn’t settled on what career he wanted yet, she said.

“First, he said to me, ‘I’m going to be a cop.’ But then he said, ‘I might be a model. I think I got the looks,’” she said. “He was probably being serious.”

Gabriel was popular in the 8th grade at Queens Intermediate School in Pasadena, where he played defense on the Hornets football team.

His love for football was evident in his room. Gabriel converted their garage into his own space — decked out with a TV, fridge and bathroom — to get away from the siblings with whom he shared a bedroom. He placed art dedicated to the Texans in the windows, next to a collage adorned with photos of him and his girlfriend.

One photo of Gabriel with the girl was captioned: “I love how he pays so much attention to me.”

Valdez gave his girlfriend his black jacket.

“She can sleep with it. He wore it all the time so it smells like him,” she said.

The grief-stricken mother then buried her face in a black shirt of his and sobbed.

Valdez hopes her son lives on in others after she signed off on donating his corneas and heart.

“They get a part of your child. I feel like he would want that,” she said.

The death already has Valdez and Gonzalez considering a move.

“We’re not even sure we want to live here anymore,” Gonzalez said. “Is it going to feel like home without Gabriel?”

Gabriel’s best friend, who was allegedly handling the weapon when it fired, called her in tears Saturday night to say he “didn’t know it was loaded.”

“It went off,” she recalled him saying. “He loved my son. They were friends.”

Gonzalez never wants to relive that moment again.

“I wanted to know who had a gun and who shot my son. That’s all I cared about,” Gonzalez said, a Navy veteran.

“I cannot believe these kids have access to guns,” said Gonzalez, “When I was 14, none of my friends had a gun. We never played with guns.”

Authorities did not comment on the source of the weapon. It may have come from an older boy in the group, Valdez said.

In the other shooting deaths, a 17-year-old boy died Saturday in southwest Houston while playing with a gun about an hour after Gabriel was shot, according to news reports. On Wednesday, a 9-year-old boy was fatally shot by his cousin while the two were playing with a legally-purchased gun at an apartment.

Prosecutors are reviewing Gabriel’s death. No charges have been filed.

Gonzalez shared a message to parents who own firearms.

“If you own a gun, keep it locked away,” he said. “Guns aren’t a toy. They kill people and please keep your kids away from guns.”

Brian Rogers contributed to this report

nicole.hensley@chron.com

twitter.com/nkhensley

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