Jennyfer Velazquez’s biggest dream in life was to be the first in her family to graduate from college.
The 19-year-old was set to graduate from a New York City high school in August. She planned to attend LaGuardia Community College or Queens College and was thinking about becoming a lawyer — though she was keeping her options open.
But now, instead of preparing high school graduation announcements, her family is planning a funeral. The teen was shot and killed in East Baltimore’s McElderry Park over Memorial Day weekend.
Velazquez’s death marred the end to an already violent weekend in the neighborhood. Four people were shot and injured in McElderry Park the night before she was killed, according to police.
Baltimore Police said Thursday they had no updates in the case, but acknowledged Velazquez was not the intended target of the shooting.
The teen’s slaying was the city’s 120th homicide so far this year, according to the police department, with 10 of those homicides from the Southeastern district.
Velazquez was born and raised in Queens. Her family moved to Baltimore five months ago hoping for a better life and better jobs. The teen loved school and was on track to graduate, so she didn’t want to uproot her life in the middle of the school year, her sister-in-law Veronica Dejesus said.
Velazquez decided to stay enrolled at the High School for Arts and Business in Queens and visit her family every two weeks so she could watch over her 10-year-old brother and help take care of her nieces and nephews.
Family members said Velazquez was known for spoiling the family’s children. Her brother, Jose Velazquez, said she’d find any excuse to take them to the movies or the park and to buy them new clothes and toys. And when her brother, 28, struggled to make ends meet, unsure whether he would be able to provide his baby formula, Jennyfer Velazquez would step in and donate some of her earnings to buy it.
“She loved my son as if he was her own,” her brother said.
Jennyfer Velazquez was in town for the long weekend and went to a barbecue at an uncle’s house with her family on Sunday. Later that night she was watching TV with family when Dejesus suggested the two should get ice cream. They stepped out of the house in the 400 block of N. Montford Ave. and walked across the street when several shots were fired.
Family members heard the screams and calls for help from Dejesus, 26, who had been standing right next to Jennyfer Velazquez. The teenager had been shot in the back of her head.
Her brother ran to his sister’s side.
“I told her to be strong, to try and hold on,” he said. “I told her we were here for her.”
Velazquez was rushed to a hospital and died a day later, on Memorial Day, from her injuries. Police said another person was shot as well, but family said they didn’t know who it was. That victim is expected to survive, according to police.
The teen’s family remembers her as a lovable, caring teenager with a love of iced coffee and an infectious laugh. She could make anyone smile with her jokes, her family said.
Velazquez’s mother, Micaela Valerio, said her daughter meant “everything to her.”
“She was the best daughter I ever had,” her mom said in Spanish through a family member translating. “She did anything I ever asked of her and never said no.”
Her mother said her daughter was dedicated to studying and couldn’t wait to graduate and get her diploma. Velazquez wanted to give it to her as a thank you.
But now the mantel where the diploma could have sat is filled with mementos of the teen: a bottle of Sprite, her favorite soda, candles and photographs of her. Below it sit two bouquets of white lilies, one of her favorite flowers, a Minion stuffed animal and a card from one of the young children.
Police have not made an arrest in the shooting, but family said Tuesday that officers told them they had a suspect.
Velazquez’s family wants to see an arrest made. They plan to hire a lawyer and have called police regularly to stay on top of the case.
“We want justice,” Dejesus said. “She didn’t deserve to die like that. She was so young.”