When Martin Duque was in middle school and saw a classmate struggling to fit in, the “always smiling” teenager tried to make him feel welcomed.
“He quickly became one of my greatest friends — no question,” a teary-eyed Jose Hoyos told the Miami Herald on Sunday. Hoyos had moved to Parkland from Mexico nearly three years ago and attended Westglades Middle School with Duque, also a native Mexican.
“Martin knew what it was like, so he approached me, taught me some English, invited me to play soccer and introduced me to some friends. He didn’t ask any questions. He just wanted to make me feel at home, loved and accepted,” said Hoyos, who eventually moved on to high school with Duque. “I’ll never forget his friendship.”
That friendship was tragically cut short on Feb. 14 when confessed gunman Nikolas Cruz slaughtered 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
On Sunday, Duque was the last of the 17 victims to be laid to rest.
A funeral service for the 14-year-old JROTC member was held in Coral Springs and a burial with honors took place in Pompano Beach. Both services were private.
“The last time I saw him was at the lunch table the day of the shooting,” Hoyos said. “We were laughing, having a great time, as always. I’m glad that’s how I can remember him — smiling. I hope others remember that. too.”
In a GoFundMe post, Duque, a jolly freshman at Douglas, was described as “a very funny kid, outgoing but sometimes really quiet.”
“He was sweet and caring and loved by everyone in his family,” wrote one of his four siblings, Alex Duque. “Most of all, he was my baby brother.”
The atmosphere Sunday was bittersweet, as mourners celebrated Duque’s life. Family members and friends shared memories of the teen as they stood in line to enter the service. As they signed a Star Wars-themed memory book, many laughed. Others cried and exchanged long hugs.
“We’re choosing to honor him, to remember the good parts of his life,” said fellow schoolmate Vincent Hernandez. “Having survived the shooting, I definitely feel newfound purpose. Martin’s death and this tragedy has let me see things differently. In a short time, I’ve learned to love things while I still have them, not afterward.”
Duque was born in Coyuca de Catalán in the state of Guerrero in southwestern Mexico. The teen and his siblings were raised by their two grandmothers while his parents moved to Florida until they could save enough money to bring the children here.
A devout churchgoer, Duque was remembered as a humble and affectionate friend with “strong faith,” a passionate soccer fan, an excellent student and a well-liked cadet on his high school’s JROTC team.
Some of his awards included the medal of heroism, a perfect attendance ribbon, a leadership development ribbon, a JROTC athletic ribbon and a ribbon for good conduct.
Marilu Hernandez Duque, a cousin of the slain teen who lives in Mexico, told the Miami Herald that her relative’s death hit the family hard. For the Duques, death by violence has been a pattern.
“The family has been assassinated by crime in Mexico,” Hernandez Duque said, noting that six family members had been murdered in violent crime back at home. Tears cascaded down her cheek. “Martin is the seventh death, also from violence. I cannot understand why this keeps happening. I hope that this does not continue and that they do something to make the violence vanish.”
Gabriel Souza, a friend of Duque’s brother, said Duque “was a kid with big dreams.”
In his hands was a remembrance pamphlet that read “Gone but never forgotten.”
“I have a feeling this school shooting was the final straw,” said Souza, 22. He said he’s “certain” school security will “finally” be heightened and gun laws will be tightened.
“I think they messed around with the wrong town.”