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The lost boy
Niño perdido

The lost boy

Story by Debralee Santos

From the beginning, he was precious cargo.

Christopher Duran arrived in the United States before he was of age – any age.

“He loved Coney Island.” He is about four years old here.
“He loved Coney Island.” He is about four years old here.

Even when he arrived, traveling over thousands of miles aloft in the air, and holding fast to his mother, he was, in fact, not yet here.

His mother Rosanna Grullón arrived with Christopher’s father, named Christian Duran Sr., and his older brother Christian.

Christopher was still tucked deep in his mother’s womb, only four months into gestation.

He weighed about 5 ounces, and could move and kick.

He could hear his mother’s voice.

Christopher (right) and his younger brother Jesslyn at the airport, ready to travel for a summer’s vacation in the Dominican Republic. “We went all the time to be with our family,” says Dayanira.
Christopher (right) and his younger brother Jesslyn at the airport, ready to travel for a summer’s vacation in the Dominican Republic. “We went all the time to be with our family,” says Dayanira.

They had come from El Barrio Cala in Moca, in the Dominican Republic’s Cibao region.

Known at the country’s “Villa Heroica” (Village of Heroes), it is the home of many fierce men and women who fought and brought down the island-nation’s dictators.

It is where platanos and yuca, heaping mounds of the earth’s hard fruit, are harvested by hand.

And to where Christopher returned many summers to visit with a large family that included his grandmother Fidelia, who would feed her young grandson steamed guineos verdes (green bananas) in the backyard. La Nena, as she is known to her family, would leave him to eat while tackling another of the day’s chores.

Triumphantly, he would find her, returning round bowls emptied clean.

She, in turn, would crow about his good appetite.

Only later would she discover some of the guineos hidden in the grassy mounds of her small garden, and smile.

It was too much food, she knew, but she wanted to fortify him, nourish the young man she had nicknamed “Christo-Sol.”

“His mother is crazy about her boys,” says Dayanira; here, the birthday boy turns seven, and celebrates with his mother.
“His mother is crazy about her boys,” says Dayanira; here, the birthday boy turns seven, and celebrates with his mother.

“El quería hacerla feliz [He wanted to make her happy],” said his aunt Dayanira Duran. It was, she explained, his way.

As a child, he was a bright flash of a boy, fair and wiry, given to spells of stillness.

As is to be expected of the middle child, Christopher was watchful and protective over his younger brother Jesslyn, and would alternate between diffidence and deference to his older brother Christian, whose temperament was brasher.

His childhood was marked by rituals familiar to those who hail from far shores, with convoys of family and friends, here and there, where primos abound, everywhere.

He would become familiar with air travel, knowing to keep close to his carry-on suitcase and to be polite when speaking to uniformed strangers at customs desks.

There was always a crowd, another birthday, another bonche.

Aquí y allá.

And there were universal rites.

His birthdays were celebrated in school, beside grinning classmates eager to have at the cake. He would walk, resplendent in cap and gown, in his graduation ceremony from fifth grade.

The graduate.
The graduate.

As he got older, he took up boxing and karate, and his baby-faced smile drew a few young girls to his side.

Like all kids making their way on the block, he would travel along the streets that ribbon out from the shadow of Yankee Stadium, would hang out on the corner, on the stoop.

And like many young men on hard streets, he would know some trouble.

He cut class to meet up with his girlfriend. He tussled with another boy. One day last summer, there had been a wild water balloon fight on the block and he ran right into the cops who had come to see about the ruckus.

There had been arrests; some reports say at least five since 2013. Gangs are an acknowledged presence in his neighborhood. He looked to post photos on social media that spoke of braggadocio beyond his years, mimicking the behavior of those in movies, and of some around him who ran in crews.

“Pero él no era ganguero [But he was not a gangster],” insists his aunt.

There is no doubt in her voice; she knew him too well, she says. They were all too close.

“This is something so hard,” says his aunt. Photo: Catherine Fonseca
“This is something so hard,” says his aunt.
Photo: Catherine Fonseca

She acknowledges that he had been picked up by police in the past, and that he – and all the family – had struggled to find a place for himself in a neighborhood notorious for being among the poorest in the country.

“Él era una persona tranquila, bien tierno [He was a peaceful person, very gentle].” She recalls that he had begun to study again in earnest, and that his mother was particularly pleased with how he had taken to spending more time with her.

Christopher was fourteen when he was ambushed and killed in the morning of Fri., May 22nd on Sheridan Avenue, steps from his front lobby and on his way to school.

Police officials have called it a “directed shooting,” as they believe that the assailants were known to Christopher.  Surveillance footage collected from the scene shows the gunman wearing a hoodie and a red bandanna; he runs directly to Christopher and fires point blank.

The investigation is ongoing.

The memorial on Sheridan Avenue.  Photo: Catherine Fonseca
The memorial on Sheridan Avenue.
Photo: Catherine Fonseca

“Destrozados [Destroyed],” says Duran of where her family stands now. “Es algo bien fuerte, tan duro [This is something so strong, so hard].”

Aquí y allá.

His mother Rosanna recalls that Christopher had tossed and turned in his sleep the night before, waking a few times and saying he was hungry. He had had a full dinner, she reminded him, and asked him if he wanted her to prepare him another meal.

Of her three sons, Christopher was the fondest of her home cooking, of her chicken and rice, and less inclined to opt for merely a quick sandwich or snack.

But he declined and returned to sleep, fast until morning.

Hanging with his cousin last summer.
Hanging with his cousin last summer.

She woke early, to prepare him a full breakfast. He was in typical adolescent boy mode again, waking late, languishing for an hour in the bathroom, and eating slowly.

“¿Mamí, me puedo quedar? Tengo sueño [Mamí, can I stay? I am still sleepy],” he asked, the familiar boyish smile coming to his face just before he gathered his things.

She refused, knowing he needed to be in class.

He ran back for one last gulp of apple juice and headed for the door, his younger brother trailing behind him.

Shots rang out a few moments later.

Last summer, during his last trip to Moca, Christopher and his grandmother had repeated their routines.

La Nena fed her thirteen-year-old grandson rich meals, and he devoured them.

Every last guineo.

Here and there, aquí y allá.

That’s what they told each other; that was their pact.

Funeral services for Christopher Duran are being held at the Ortiz Funeral Home on 4425 Broadway (on 191st Street) in Manhattan on Thurs., May 28th from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

El niño perdido

Historia por Debralee Santos

Christopher (right) and his younger brother Jesslyn at the airport, ready to travel for a summer’s vacation in the Dominican Republic. “We went all the time to be with our family,” says Dayanira.
Christopher (a la derecha) y su hermano menor, Jesslyn, alistándose para sus vacaciones de verano en la República Dominicana.

Desde el principio fue una preciosa carga.

Christopher Duran llegó a los Estados Unidos antes de tener alguna edad, cualquier edad.

Incluso cuando llegó, viajando miles de millas en el aire y aferrado a su madre, él no estaba, de hecho, todavía aquí.

Su madre, Rosanna Grullón, llegó con el padre de Christopher, llamado Christian Duran Sr., y su hermano mayor Christian.

Christopher seguía escondido profundamente en el vientre de su madre con sólo cuatro meses de gestación.

Pesaba alrededor de 5 onzas y podía moverse y patear.

Podía escuchar la voz de su madre.

Habían salido del Barrio Cala en Moca, en la región del Cibao de la República Dominicana.

Conocido en el país como “Villa Heroica”, es el hogar de muchos hombres y mujeres feroces que lucharon y derribaron a dictadores de la isla-nación.

Es donde plátanos y yuca, montículos colmados de frutas duras de la tierra, son cosechadas a mano.

“He was a peaceful person, very gentle.” This photo was taken last summer, during his last visit to Moca.
“Era una persona tranquila, bien tierno”. Esta foto es del verano pasado, durante su último viaje a Moca.

Y a donde Christopher regresó muchos veranos para visitar a una gran familia que incluía a su abuela Fidelia, quien alimentaba a su joven nieto con guineos verdes al vapor en el patio. La Nena, como la conoce su familia, lo dejaba comiendo mientras realizaba otras de las tareas del día.

Triunfante, él la encontraba y le devolvía los cuencos redondos vacíos, y alardeaba sobre su buen apetito.

Sólo más tarde descubría algunos de los guineos escondidos en los montículos cubiertos de hierba de su pequeño jardín, y sonreía.

Era demasiada comida, lo sabía, pero ella quería fortalecerlo, nutrir al joven, a quien había apodado “Cristo-Sol”.

“Él quería hacerla feliz”, dijo su tía Dayanira Duran. Era su manera de lograrlo, explicó.

Cuando era niño, tenía un brillante destello, era justo y enjuto, dado a los hechizos de quietud.

Como es de esperar del hijo del medio, Christopher era vigilante y protector con su hermano menor Jesslyn, y alternaría entre la desconfianza y la deferencia hacia su hermano mayor, Christian, cuyo temperamento era más intrépido.

Mugging for the camera at his fourth birthday party.
Cumpliendo cuatro años.

Su infancia estuvo marcada por rituales conocidos por los que provienen de costas lejanas, con convoyes de familiares y amigos, aquí y allá, donde abundan los primos, en todas partes.

Él se familiarizó con los viajes en avión, sabiendo mantener cerca su equipaje de mano y su maleta, y a ser educado al hablar con desconocidos uniformados en los mostradores de aduanas.

Siempre había una multitud, otro cumpleaños, otro bonche.

Aquí y allá.

Y había ritos universales.

Sus cumpleaños eran celebrados en la escuela, junto a sus sonrientes compañeros que deseaban partir el pastel. Él caminó, resplandeciente con toga y birrete, en su ceremonia de graduación de quinto grado.

A medida que fue creciendo, empezó a practicar box y karate, y su sonrisa atrajo a un par de chicas a su lado.

Como todos los chicos del bloque, él caminaba por las calles que rodeaban al Yankee Stadium y pasaba el rato en la esquina, en la escalera de la entrada.

Young children stop by the memorial.  Photo: Catherine Fonseca
Jóvenes del barrio pasen por el memorial.
Foto: Catherine Fonseca

Y al igual que muchos jóvenes que crecen en calles difíciles, tuvo algunos problemas.

Faltó a clase para encontrarse con su novia. Peleó con otro chico. Un día, el verano pasado, hubo una salvaje pelea con globos de agua en la cuadra y él corrió justo hacia a los policías que habían llegado a ver cuál era el alboroto.

Hubo arrestos. Algunos informes dicen que al menos cinco desde 2013. Las pandillas son una presencia reconocida en su barrio. Buscaba publicar fotos en las redes sociales que indicaran jactancia más allá de sus años, imitando el comportamiento de aquellos en las películas y de algunos en torno a él que dirigían pandillas.

“Pero él no era ganguero”, insiste su tía.

No hay duda en su voz, ella lo conocía muy bien, dice. Eran cercanos.

The memorial on Sheridan Avenue.  Photo: Catherine Fonseca
Conmemorado en la avenida Sheridan.
Foto: Catherine Fonseca

Ella reconoce que la policía lo había buscado en el pasado, y que él -y toda la familia- tuvieron problemas para encontrarle un lugar en un barrio conocido por ser uno de los más pobres del país.

“Era una persona tranquila, bien tierno”. Ella recuerda que él comenzó a estudiar de nuevo en serio, y que su madre estaba particularmente complacida porque pasaba más tiempo con ella.

Christopher tenía catorce años cuando fue emboscado y asesinado en la mañana del viernes 22 de mayo sobre la avenida Sheridan, a unos pasos del vestíbulo principal y mientras iba camino a la escuela.

Los oficiales de la policía lo llamaron un “tiroteo dirigido”, ya que creen que Christopher conocía a los asaltantes. Las imágenes de vigilancia recopiladas de la escena muestran que el pistolero llevaba una sudadera con capucha y un pañuelo rojo, y corrió directamente hacia Christopher y disparó a quemarropa.

“Es algo bien fuerte, tan duro”, dice su tía.
Foto: Catherine Fonseca

La investigación está en curso.

“Destrozados”, dice Duran sobre cómo se encuentra su familia. “Es algo bien fuerte, tan duro”.

Aquí y allá.

Su madre, Rosanna, recuerda que Christopher dio vueltas en la cama la noche anterior, despertando un par de veces y diciendo que tenía hambre. Había tenido una gran cena, le recordó, y le preguntó si quería que le preparara algo más.

De sus tres hijos, Christopher era el que más apreciaba su cocina casera, su pollo y arroz, y se inclinaba menos a optar por un bocadillo rápido o un aperitivo.

Pero él se negó y regresó a dormir, rápido, hasta la mañana.

Ella se despertó temprano para prepararle un desayuno completo. Él estaba en el típico modo de adolescente de nuevo, despertándose tarde, languideciendo durante una hora en el baño y comiendo lentamente.

“I remember our buying him this shirt for his graduation – a pink one from Express,” recalls his aunt Dayanira Duran.
“Recuerdo que le compramos esta camisa para su graduación, una rosa de Express”, dice su tía Dayanira Duran.

“¿Mami me puedo quedar? Tengo sueño”, preguntó, la familiar infantil sonrisa se asomó en su rostro justo antes de reunir sus cosas.

Ella se negó, sabiendo que tenía que estar en clase.

Corrió de regreso para un último trago de jugo de manzana y se dirigió a la puerta, su hermano menor iba detrás de él.

Sonaron disparos unos momentos más tarde.

El verano pasado, durante su último viaje a Moca, Christopher y su abuela repitieron su rutina.

La Nena alimentó su nieto de trece años de edad con deliciosas comidas, y él las devoró.

Hasta el último guineo.

Aquí y allá.

Eso es lo que se decían uno al otro, ese era su pacto.

Los servicios funerarios para Christopher Duran se llevarán a cabo en la Funeraria Ortiz, ubicada en el 4425 de Broadway (en la calle 191), el jueves 28 de mayo de 4:00 pm a 9:00 pm.

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