Categorized | Bronx, Crime, Featured, Honduran, Issues, News

Mother Struggles After Son’s Murder


Arzu waits as her friends an family prepare to pray for the spirit of her son. Credit: CORAL GARNICK

It’s been a year, but Lesly Arzu remembers the moment perfectly. Standing in the doorway of her Bronx apartment, she told her 16-year-old son that he should run inside and grab a sweater because it was getting chilly.

“No ma, I’ll be right back, I’ll be right back,” Jose Webster replied as he waited for the elevator with his girlfriend. “I’m just going to walk her home.”

Less than 15 minutes later, the phone rang. It was Jose’s girlfriend, calling to tell Arzu her son had been shot.

Arzu ran downstairs, thinking it hadn’t been that long, and her son must be right outside her Morrisania neighborhood home. But he wasn’t. Jose had been taken to Lincoln Hospital, where doctors were fighting to keep him alive. Once Arzu arrived and spoke with police, it was too late. The officers took her family into the waiting room to break the news.

“When they closed the door, I felt like I was in one of those big freezers in the meat market…it gave me the coldest feeling ever,” Azru said. “And when I said to the detectives, ‘He’s dead, isn’t he?’ with a nod of his head he confirmed it… All I needed was that confirmation, because I already knew in my spirit that he was gone.”

Jose Webster was shot seven times from behind while walking on Teller Avenue with 16-year-old Aniik Wallace, his girlfriend. The first anniversary of his death fell on Sept. 15, but there have been no arrests or even leads, according to police. His death was one of 148 murders in the Bronx last year and 515 citywide.

Arzu said she hasn’t head from police since a few days after the shooting, when they came to check on her family and make sure they were doing OK. Still, she retains faith that the people responsible for her son’s death will eventually be brought to justice. But police aren’t so hopeful. Detective Bart Pipcinski, the lead investigator on the case, said no witnesses could identify Jose’s attackers. During the weeks after the shooting, police put up posters announcing a cash reward for any information, but nobody came forward, Pipcinski said.

Bullets from two different guns were pulled from Jose’s back and legs during the autopsy, leading investigators to believe that two different people were involved in the shooting. But, that’s all they know, Pipcinski said. Police don’t, however, have any reason to believe that Jose was targeted.

“He was just a poor kid walking his girlfriend home and walked on the wrong side of the street,” the detective said.

Coming to grips with Jose’s loss hasn’t been easy for Azru or her three other children, Nathalie, 20, Tanya, 18, and Julian, 10. They’ve relied heavily on Diana Buelto, Arzu’s best friend, who moved from Texas to New York to help them grieve and heal. Buelto, who has known Arzu since they were teenagers living in Honduras, was a church leader and youth group teacher in Texas and is now the Spanish ministries pastor at Vineyard International Christian Ministries on Teller Avenue in the Bronx.

Each member of the family has dealt with the loss in a different way. Nathalie won’t talk to anyone about her feelings. She knows her family worries, but “I just like to be alone,” she says. Julian has come to accepted being the man in the house and that all the women will blame him for urine on the toilet.  And their mother, for a while, tried to find comfort in driving around the city, as she used to do with her son – taking him to doctor’s appointments or to school and talking to him about documentaries he had seen or businesses he thought his mother should start.

Azru said that after the shooting, when she was driving, she would almost feel like Jose was still there, sitting next to her.

Arzu also attends a monthly support group at Crime Victim Support Services, an organization in the Bronx that helps families with funeral costs and counseling.

“Sometimes I wonder if my feelings are normal.” Arzu said. “The surrealness of it all still hasn’t sunk in yet — the reality of it. And it is the reality of a lot of mothers, especially mothers in my community.”

As a mother who has also had to deal with losing a child, Joanne Cicero, the group’s founder and chief executive, said she worked with 116 families of murder victims in the Bronx in 2011.

Only after Azru’s family moved out of their apartment full of memories in March, to the Throgs Neck neighborhood across the Bronx, did they start finding ways to move on, she said. Azru, who has a background in business and spent nine years directing a children’s afterschool program and summer camp, is pursing a second career in nursing as a way to give back to the community. Both of her daughters are also going into the field. They’ll all graduate from nursing school in 2015.

Azru also has visions of starting a nonprofit for youth in her old neighborhood, giving them a place to spend time other than on the streets.

Friends and family pray for Jose’s spirit at the memorial for the one-year anniversary of his death. Credit: CORAL GARNICK

Still, despite their progress, the one-year anniversary of Jose’s death on Sept. 15 was hard for the whole family. It was a Saturday, and Arzu and her mother, a devout Catholic, attended mass at Our Lady of Victory Church on Webster Avenue. Moments before the service started, Arzu’s mother approached the altar and handed the priest an envelope. After she whispered something to him, the priest opened the envelope, read the note about the death’s anniversary, and nodded, agreeing he would pray for her lost grandson.

Throughout the service, Arzu and her mother sat close, listening to the words of the priest and praying along with him. He mentioned Jose in prayer three times.

“For a person like my mom,” Azru said, “that is a big deal.”

After the service, friends and family met at Arzu’s mother’s house for traditional Honduran food and prayer.  Afterward she stopped at the park where young family members were holding a candlelight vigil to take some time to remember him.

She hasn’t forgotten her last moments with her son, when she was allowed into the hospital room to see his body before he was taken to the morgue.

“When I went inside and I saw him laying there, it was like me standing at the door of his bedroom looking at him sleeping, like I had done so many times before,” she said. “My first reaction was to say, ‘Why did you have to leave me?’ but I caught myself and said, ‘I love you son.’”

Arzu leaned in so close that she swears she heard Jose’s last breath, which reassured her that he knew she was with him.

“He knows that in his life, from the day he was born to the day he died, I was there.”




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