Vigil remembers slain teen as ‘Jeremiah the boy, not the way he died’
The photos, arranged in the shape of his initials — J.V., for Jeremiah Valencia — told the story of a life cut short.
A toothless baby smiles at the camera. A toddler’s face is smeared with food. A little boy holds up a freshly caught fish. A few years older, he poses in front of a yellow sports car.
It’s these images, friends and family members of the slain 13-year-old said, that they want people to remember most.
“I just want people to remember Jeremiah the boy, not the way he died,” said Celine Miera, aunt and godmother of the child who authorities say was brutally abused before he was killed at his home in northern Santa Fe County. “He was a person. He had his whole life ahead of him, and it was just taken away.”
Miera and several dozen other loved ones and grievers gathered at Frenchy’s Field on Santa Fe’s west side Monday night to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Jeremiah, a boy they remembered as fearless, active, kind and outgoing.
“He was really sweet, helpful,” said Karen Gonzales, Jeremiah’s half-sister. “He wasn’t shy whatsoever. He would walk up to anybody and be like, ‘Hi, my name’s Jeremiah.’ He’s like, ‘Who are you?’ He’d make friends just like that. … He was a great kid.”
Gonzales said she used to take him fishing in the Pecos. He loved cars, sports, getting messy, building things.
The photos adorned the windshields of two cars. Blue and yellow balloons emblazoned with the Batman logo — Jeremiah loved Batman — flew overhead. After the last light had left the sky, and as the temperature dipped close to freezing, mourners lit candles and joined Gonzales and other family members in prayer and reflection.
“I’ll always have him in my heart,” Gonzales told the crowd through tears. “He knows I love him. I’m just really glad he’s not suffering anymore.”
Jeremiah’s body was found buried in a plastic tub alongside N.M. 503 near Nambé in January, several miles from his home. Prosecutors and police said his mother’s late boyfriend, Thomas Wayne Ferguson, systemically beat and humiliated the boy with the help of Jeremiah’s mother, Tracy Ann Peña, and Ferguson’s son, 20-year-old Jordan Anthony Nuñez.
Ferguson, 42, kept Jeremiah in a dog kennel, choked him, forced him to wear a remotely controlled shock collar, starved him, beat him and made him wear adult diapers, authorities said.
The boy died of blunt force trauma, according to an autopsy. A toxicology report showed Jeremiah had alcohol and methamphetamine in his system.
The case made news across New Mexico, evoking an emotional outpouring of grief in a state where cases of child abuse are all too common. Earlier this year, the child advocacy group Child Trends reported New Mexico and Arizona tied as the states with the highest rates of children suffering from trauma.
All three suspects were charged with crimes related to Jeremiah’s death. Ferguson, who police described as the ringleader of the boy’s ongoing torture, hanged himself in April at the Santa Fe County jail.
Peña, 36, is expected to enter a plea deal on Wednesday. She faces a dozen felony counts in the case, including child abuse and evidence tampering.
Nuñez, who prosecutors say delivered the final, fatal blow to Jeremiah, is being detained pending trail. He faces 13 counts, including child abuse resulting in death. Jury selection in his case is scheduled for March.
After family members and friends shared memories on Monday night, mourners released balloons into the sky and blew out candles, sending smoke and prayers skyward.