LEAGUE CITY — The 17-year-old’s lifeless body was frozen in a sitting position in solitary-confinement at the Galveston County Jail.
Arturo Chavez’s back was flush against a 7-foot partition for the cell’s shower. A blue blanket was twisted into a noose, with one end wrapped around his neck, the other tied to a shower head.
He apparently hanged himself about 48 hours after being arrested for what started as an illegal left turn.
I have a son, he is almost seven, I can’t imagine him risking his life, crossing the Rio Grande, at the tender age of 13, hoping to attain the American dream. This is a story that exemplifies a crisis with our Southern neighbors and with our broken immigration system. Yes, its true, albiet he did it without proper papers, this boy risked his life to come here to create a better life for himself and for his family, imagine the inner strength it must have taken to make such a journey.
Arturo Chavez, 17, after being arrested for making an illegal left hand turn, reportedly panicked, attempting to flee from his jail cell. According to jail officers he was tasered and clubbed while attempting to escape over a fence.
From all accounts, he was a model immigrant, taking classes to learn English, proud of his Mayan heritage but also proud to be here in America, his ankle braclet displaying the red, white, and blue colors. He worked hard as a bus boy, hoping to move up to waiter. People will point out that he came here “illegally”, that he should not have been driving without a valid drivers license, and insurance. I agree with all that, but what I am wondering, is where is our soul as a nation, that we don’t raise this child up, praise him for risking so much, for being so brave to strive for the American dream as a mere child. How many teenagers do you know that exhibit such desire to better themselves and better their loved ones?
Those who knew Chavez said, like many undocumented immigrants, he feared any run-in with authorities as it would likely mean he would be deported.
He left Central America when he was 13 and wanted more out of life than he could get with tips loading baggage at a bus station.
Relatives say it took him nearly 15 days to get to Houston, including sneaking into Mexico and riding a passenger bus north.
He crossed the Rio Grande and hiked through South Texas.
Human smugglers demanded $3,500 to guide him, a hefty sum met with help from family and friends.
In Houston, he was known for his hustle and held out hope his improving English skills would get him promoted from busboy to waiter.
Chavez’s death was a mystery as much as a shock, said Mario Garcia, who owns the restaurant where Chavez worked.
“I don’t understand how you can go from making a mistake to losing your life, I’m dumbfounded by it,” Garcia said. “There are two sides to every story, and the truth is probably somewhere right in the middle.”
$100 sent home weekly
The kid known by his family as niño, Spanish for boy, had come a long way since leaving his indigenous village. He was sending home at least $100 a week to help his mother, father and sister.
He was not only working full time, but attending Clear Creek High School’s program to help newly arrived international students.
He wore woven bracelets made of blue and white yarn — the colors of Guatemala’s flag — as well as an anklet with the U.S.A.’s red, white and blue.
“He was very proud of his Mayan heritage,” said Elizabeth Laurence, one of his teachers. “He was a feisty young fellow, popular and wanted to learn English very much. He wasn’t timid; he tried to use it.”
Things were going well with his girlfriend, Jhoseline Martell, whom he met at school.
As the police cruiser’s lights flashed behind him near Louisiana Street and League City Parkway, Chavez dialed Martell on his cell phone and stuffed it in his pocket.
“He said the police have stopped me, just listen,” recalled Martell, 15.
He normally rode a bicycle to avoid such trouble, but he had recently bought a used green Honda sedan.
He had no driver’s license, no insurance and what turned out later to be a fake identification card.
He was arrested and taken to jail. His mugshot was taken while he wore the red shirt from his job as a busboy.