It's been nearly two months since Anthony Jose "Chulo" Vega Cruz died after being shot by a Wethersfield police officer. The shooting remains under investigation by the Hartford state's attorney's office. The 18-year-old would've graduated from Hartford Public Schools and Our Piece of the Pie's Opportunity Academy on Friday. In what was an emotional day for family, classmates, and faculty of the former student, the school took time to honor Vega Cruz.
If he was still alive, he would've joined his classmates wearing royal blue caps and gowns, celebrating an accomplishment that at times felt out of reach. Instead, a photo slideshow of Vega Cruz played before the graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Principal Rodney Powell presented a framed illustration of Chulo and a copy of his poem, "Life is a Hustle" to his father, Jose Vega.
"Unfortunately, this is a young man that was part of our family but departed too soon," Powell said to the audience. "But once you're a part of Opportunity Academy, once you're a part of OPP, you will always be a member and we'll never forget you."
Rosa Oliver took to the stage to read her classmate's poem. His family and girlfriend, Stephanie Santiago sat in the crowd. Santiago was in the passenger's seat on the day that Vega Cruz was stopped and shot by Wethersfield police on Silas Deane Highway in April.
As a youth development specialist, Nydia Roman worked closely with Vega Cruz. When she noticed his attendance dwindling, Roman would be the one calling him in the morning or making a visit to his house.
"When he first started out of OA he was very focused," Roman said. "Whenever he was struggling, he was honest about it."
Roman said she still feels his presence in her classroom. The place where he used to sit remains empty, as a way to honor him.
"It's like he's still there with us," Roman said of Vega Cruz, who she described as a "good listener" with "deep thoughts."
"He was working on himself. He knew that he had ups and downs but his ultimate goal was like, 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to make it, I'm going to do things right,'" she said. "He was a beautiful person, gone too soon and we're just going to continue to fight."