On the night of Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, 12-year-old Juan Lopez was gunned down in Rochester. A 16-year-old boy was seriously wounded.
Lopez was found at the scene, dead on the sidewalk.
“I just want police to catch the person who did this and put him behind bars, you know? He could take a 12-year-old boy’s life right now – it could be somebody else,” said Juan’s father, Jose Lopez, to WROC in a December 2022 interview.
Less than six months later, Jose Lopez’s fears were realized.
On Tuesday, May 30, 8-year-old Jesus Perez-Salome, his 9-year-old brother, Sebastian Perez-Salome, and 19-year-old Joshua Lugo-Perez were gunned down at a Lebanon city residence.
It’s a crime that may have been prevented if not for inaction by Rochester city police.
22-year-old Alex Torres-Santos and 16-year-old James Fernandez-Reyes were arrested last week over the Lebanon triple murder, and both face more than a half-dozen felonies each, including three counts each of criminal homicide and conspiracy to commit criminal homicide.
Fernandez-Reyes has faced no charges, and has not even been named a person of interest or a suspect, in the Lopez killing – despite what his family says is clear and incontrovertible evidence showing Fernandez-Reyes takes credit for slaying the seventh-grade student who was just weeks away from celebrating his 13th birthday and Christmas on Dec. 25.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions, Lopez’s aunt and uncle told LebTown that “Juano,” as he was called in the family, was a good kid, happy in school, and with his whole life ahead of him. The family continues to suffer from the devastating loss of Juan, and feels that – in the strongest possible terms – inaction by the Rochester city police has led to further heartbreak and tragedy.
Juan’s uncle says that there are text messages from Fernandez-Reyes saying that he was going to shoot Juan in the chest and the face.
“We’ve been telling the investigators who it was,” said Juan’s uncle. “We’ve got proof of everything. We’ve got messages. Live videos of him saying it. We have voicemails of him saying in Spanish, ‘I killed the little 12-year-old named Juano Lopez and the only reason I’m in Pennsylvania is because of that.'”
Juan’s uncle said that the police are “not doing anything.”
“It’s been six months,” he said.
“What’s it got to take. We need justice. We need justice. We need justice.“
Juan’s uncle said he and other family members have been in contact with Rochester detectives since Juan’s slaying, and one family member was in touch with the police department last week as news of Fernandez-Reyes’ involvement in the Lebanon murders became public. He lamented the continuing wave of homicides in the city.
“Why the f*** these detectives are not doing their jobs?”
Juan’s uncle said that he believes his nephew’s killing amounted to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He said that Juan was with two other boys the night he was killed, and that Fernandez-Reyes may have originally sought to kill one of the other boys.
“Before all this happened, James used to chill with Juano over here,” said Juan’s uncle. “At one point, they used to be friends.”
Juan’s uncle said that Rochester officers had every opportunity to do something about Fernandez-Reyes, and that now, with Fernandez-Reyes in custody, he will find it completely abhorrent if Rochester police aren’t able to do something to bring Fernandez-Reyes to justice for Juan’s murder.
“I gave them everything. It’s still nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”
Juan’s uncle said that if nothing is done now, the family will seek to arrange a public demonstration against Rochester authorities and fight for Juano.
“He’s not supposed to go out of our world at 12 years old.”
Juan’s uncle said that his nephew’s loss has left a devastating impact on Juan’s mother and other family members.
“Do you know how it feels to go to sleep crying every night? Because that’s the only face you’re going to see again. Have you ever closed your eyes at night time and all you see is Juano? I have to put my wife to sleep crying every single night about this s***.”
Juan’s uncle said he and other family members will support any effort by Lebanon authorities to hold Fernandez-Reyes accountable for Juan’s murder.
“If y’all need us to go to Pennsylvania, the whole family will be there. Each and every one of us will be there. We are right behind you.”
Contacted by LebTown this weekend, authorities still would not say whether they had identified Fernandez-Reyes as a suspect or a person of interest in Lopez’s slaying.
The Monroe County District Attorney’s Office said that any comment on investigations or suspects must come from the Rochester Police Department, which did not respond to requests for comment.
An email to Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf asking if her office was aware of the possible link had also not received a response as of Sunday.
Last week, DA Hess Graf announced she would seek the death penalty for Torres-Santos. The death penalty has been forbidden for offenders younger than age 18 since 2005, when the United States Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons.
LebTown also heard from a former Rochester City School District teacher who said she had taught Fernandez-Reyes as a ninth grader last school year. She spoke to LebTown on the condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions for speaking to the press.
The teacher described a teenager struggling with extreme anger issues, and said that although Fernandez-Reyes already had a probation officer at the time he was in her class, she never heard from the officer. Eventually, it got to the point where “he would show up just to fight a kid.”
While in her class, Fernandez-Reyes was apparently enthralled in a gang situation when his abduction in November 2021 led to an AMBER Alert being issued for him. Fernandez-Reyes was taken overnight by a group of four to five men with masks. He was returned home the next morning, and no further information about the incident has been released by authorities since. His former teacher said she believes the kidnapping was in retaliation for Fernandez-Reyes stealing from the men.
The teacher also told LebTown about Juan Lopez’s killing. The teacher said she learned about the story through keeping in contact with former students, and characterized the events as widely known throughout Rochester’s Puerto Rican community.
The teacher said that she believes Fernandez-Reyes was the shooter, and that the murder somehow involved a stolen moped. Juan’s uncle said he had also heard about the bike, and he recalled Fernandez-Reyes having a moped, but it wasn’t clear how it may have related to Juan’s murder.
“This definitely could have and should have been prevented,” said the teacher about the Lebanon murders.
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