Modesta Centeno had long warned her 14-year-old son about visiting friends in a nearby Miami neighborhood she considered violent and dangerous.
The single mom’s worst fears were realized on Friday night when she learned her oldest child, Gabriel Figueroa, had been shot and killed in a brazen drive-by shooting in Liberty City.
“It’s very hard. Everybody loved him,” said the 39-year-old Centeno. “Nobody believed what happened because he was a very good boy.”
Miami police said Gabriel was sitting outside with several friends in front of a home in the 1200 block of Northwest 52nd Street at 7:46 p.m. when a car approached the group. Moments later, someone inside the car fired several shots, striking Gabriel in the chest. The car then sped off from the neighborhood.
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A wounded Figueroa ran into the home of a friend at 1245 NW 52nd Street and collapsed, according to police and witnesses.
“He got shot, and then he ran inside my house, and he laid over my living room, and he was just bleeding everywhere,” Gloria Martinez, the stepmother of Figueroa’s best friend, told WSVN-Fox 7 News.
Miami Fire Rescue arrived and rushed Gabriel from the home to the Ryder Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead from the gunshot wound to the chest.
Centeno and several family members were at Ryder Trauma when they were told of Gabriel’s death.
Miami police on Saturday said they would not comment on whether Gabriel had been the target of the drive-by shooting.
“At this time, investigators are working the scene to find a motive and the person(s) responsible for this shooting,” said Miami Police Det. Rene Pimentel in a statement.
Centeno said she had long warned her son to steer clear of the neighborhood on Northwest 52nd Street.
Hours before he was shot, Centeno recalled seeing her son sitting in front of a computer at home. She said he had no plans to leave their home near Northwest 81 Street and 9th Avenue.
At some point on Friday afternoon, Gabriel left the home and boarded a bus to visit a friend in Liberty City. His family was unaware he had gone.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Roxanna Montero, 34, Gabriel’s cousin. “I didn’t know what he was doing in those areas. That area is a hot mess.”
Gabriel, who was born in New York, was a freshman at Miami Central Senior High School and was interested in football, computers and playing video games, according to relatives. He had one sister, Kayla, 11, and several cousins who lived in the area.
Centeno, who is originally from Honduras, moved her family to New York in 1996. They later moved to Miami and had been living near Northwest 81 Street and 9th Avenue for the past five years.
Late Saturday, Gabriel’s friends mourned his death during a vigil near where the teen was gunned down.
For Centeno, news of her son’s violent death was too much to bear. “My son was a very good kid, very good. He was an excellent son,” she repeated in an interview at her home.
“Every morning I would go to his room and wake him up and he would tell me ‘I love you, I love you,” Centano said. “He said ‘you are a good mother.’”
Gabriel is the second fatal drive-by shooting this week.
It is part of a troubling trend this year of drive-by shootings in Miami and Miami-Dade County’s north end. Though major crimes are down overall in most cities around the nation, including Miami, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest there has been an uptick in in drive-by shootings claiming multiple victims.
The majority of the shootings remain unsolved.
Asked Friday whether there has been a significant increase in mass drive-by shootings, Miami police’s Pimentel said it was a statistical question he couldn’t answer without investigating, but added “it seems that way, for sure.”
In the past two weeks, 18 people have been shot in drive-by shootings. Two, including Gabriel, have died. One teen with a bullet wound to his head survived.
Police are urging anyone with information about Friday night’s shooting to contact the Miami Police Department’s Homicide Unit at 305-603-6350. Those with information who wish to remain anonymous can contact Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS (8477) or visit www.crimestoppersmiami.com and select “Give a Tip” or send a text message to 274637. Enter CSMD followed by the tip information and press send.
Police are urging anyone with information about Gabriel Figueroa’s shooting death to contact the Miami Police Department’s Homicide Unit at 305-603-6350. Those with information who wish to remain anonymous can contact Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS (8477) or visit www.crimestoppersmiami.com and select “Give a Tip” or send a text message to 274637. Enter CSMD followed by the tip information and press send.