‘He wanted to make a difference’

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Carlos Vigil was kind, gentle and giving. He was loving, understanding, forgiving and affectionate.

Photo courtesy of the Vigil family: Carlos Vigil was in North Carolina last week presenting his anti-bullying proposal at the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs in North Carolina.

While many people remember the 17-year-old Los Lunas teenager fondly, it’s what he thought about himself in the end that his family and friends can’t understand.

Carlos was a passionate young man, full of promise and motivation and lived his life to help others. But his dreams were cut short Saturday when he decided to take his own life.

After years of bullying at school and online, Carlos had found what appeared to be an outlet — a life as a young leader at an Albuquerque youth art space and involvement in a youth government group that took him all the way to North Carolina where he spoke against the bullying he had been tormented by all his life.

His family says what he did doesn’t define who Carlos was. His legacy, his mother says, is the purpose he found near the end of his life.

After three days on life support, Carlos Vigil died Tuesday morning in an Albuquerque hospital. He donated his organs, which have already been transplanted into at least two people.

His parents says after years of constant bullying, it was just too much for Carlos to endure any longer.

“He wanted to be accepted by everyone, but all he needed was to be accepted by himself,” his father, Ray, said. “I believe we instilled everything that was right in him; we just couldn’t prepare him for society’s cruel ways.

“If anyone wants to think we were bad parents, it’s not true. We were there every day,” his father says through his tears as he sits in the back pew of San Clemente Catholic Church in Los Lunas. “We were struggling with him. We never gave up on him. We fought for him.”

“Because Carlos suffered for so many years, every day was challenging to us because he was in so much pain,” his mother, Jacqueline said.

Carlos posted his last words to the world on Twitter at 3:06 p.m., July 13. In part they read, “I am sorry that I wasn’t able to love someone or have someone love me.”

Never have last words been more wrong. Hours after being taken off life support, hundreds of Carlos’ former classmates, friends and family members gathered in the Los Lunas High School auditorium to remember the young man, who he was and all that he could have been.

One section of the bleachers was packed with the maroon and gold of Valley High School students, there to honor a fallen member of the Viking family. Tigers, old and new, filled out the ranks. Many wore T-shirts with two simple words emblazoned on the back: “We care!”

As the people who knew and loved Carlos spoke, their voices ripped and raw with emotion, it was into a gymnasium filled with utter silence.

Story after story illustrated the tremendous heart of Carlos Vigil, his courage and undaunted cheer and light in the face of his friends’ pain and trials.

Always the one to cheer them up with a smile, a kind word, a kiss on the cheek, Carlos was called amazing, intent, passionate and kind.

As people spoke, they reiterated Carlos’ message and legacy loud and clear. The bullying must stop.

A former teacher urged the youths there that evening to be courageous and stand up, speak out when they see wrongs being done to others.

His mother asked them to remember to be kind to each other.

“Love yourselves for who you are,” she said.

After nearly two hours of memories and tears, Carlos’ father, Ray, closed the ceremony with a call to action.

“Next time you see someone being bullied, get together like you are now. Get together and go to their house, knock on their door,” he said. “You might not even know them but introduce yourselves. You might meet another Carlos. And we don’t want to lose another Carlos.”

Since Carlos was 8 years old, he was picked on, teased and bullied. His parents say his classmates would tease him about the way he looked, focusing on his weight, his glasses and his lazy eye.

“He would get dirt kicked into his face, he was told he was not worth nothing, he was told he wasn’t even worth the dirt that was kicked in his face,” Ray said. “He didn’t understand why.”

The bullying never stopped. He was bullied through elementary school, middle school and high school, his family said.

The bullying didn’t end at school. His mother said social media played a big part in his struggles.

While a student at Los Lunas Middle School, his father said someone created a fake Facebook page targeting Carlos.

“It was the most demeaning and gross thing I ever witnessed,” Ray said. “The things being said were unreal.”

“He was devastated and angry,” Jacqueline said. “And three weeks later, it was taken down and another one was put up.”

When Carlos was a freshman at Los Lunas High School, he was elected class president — a position his grandmother, Dolores Marquez said he took very seriously.

“Carlos was very outspoken,” Marquez said. “He would stand up for the little guy. He was very sensitive and would go to bat for you, stand in front of you and fight your battle for you, but he wouldn’t fight his own. He was always fighting for the underdog and taking on the meanies.”

Carlos’ mother said during his freshman year, he became passionate about the amount of fights occurring at the high school. She said he went to the media to try to shine light on the problem.

“He knew something had to change,” she said. “He took his job seriously. There were some changes and adjustments. The school board got involved and had meetings. He really made a difference.”

But after his freshman year, when his grades began to drop, he decided he wanted to leave Los Lunas High School behind and transfer to Valley High School in Albuquerque.

His father said he would have to show him he could bring up his grades before he would allow it.

After the first semester, Carlos met his goals and changed schools. It was a fresh start, he thought.

“It was great,” Ray say. “We had our Carlitos back. He was enthusiastic, happy and he was smiling more.”

“He was focused on his school work, and his drive was rejuvenated,” his mom said. “He joined mock trial and youth in government.”

While there were still some problems at Valley, Ray said Carlos felt at home there. He had new friends and felt it was more of a family atmosphere.

But during the fall semester of Carlos’ junior year, he hit a roadblock, his father said. While trying to mend fences between two groups of Albuquerque friends, he was caught in the middle and ultimately became their target.

Carlos convinced his parents to allow him to got back to LLHS, which he did in December 2012, but it only lasted a couple of weeks.

“He thought maybe everything had calmed down at Los Lunas,” Ray said. “But two days later, he said he wanted to go back to Valley.”

After the new semester started, things went from bad to worse. His family said Carlos had a falling out with a friend who he had tried to help.

Even though he was having problems and still being bullied, Carlos was looking forward to the future. He was excited about his upcoming senior year at Valley High School and attending the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs in North Carolina, an event for youth to present state and national legislation.

For weeks, Carlos prepared for his anti-bullying presentation. He would read his speech to his mother, and even while at the conference last week, they would text each other about ways to improve his presentation.

“He came back so full of life,” Jacqueline said. “He was amazing. He said he found his purpose in life. He found new people he could relate to. He found people he could talk to and who accepted him.”

Carlos’ parents aren’t really sure what happened during the time when he returned from the conference to when his father found him at home Saturday. He had reconnected with the friend who he had a falling out with during the week, but they aren’t sure what transpired.

“Carlos didn’t always come to tell us what was going on right away,” his mother said. “We wouldn’t find out about specific incidents that Carlos went through until weeks, maybe months later.”

What he wasn’t shy about sharing were his dreams and ambitions. He wanted to be a lawyer. He wanted to be a politician — first at the Roundhouse and then on Capitol Hill.

“He found his talent,” his mom said. “He knew what he wanted and we was pursuing it. He wanted to make a difference.”

As a staunch Republican, Carlos idolized President George W. Bush, his father said.

“He thought Bush was the greatest president on the planet,” Ray said.

And when his father took him and Carlos’ older brother to a campaign rally days before the 2004 election to see Bush in Albuquerque, Carlos was ecstatic.

“We would sit and watch Bill O’Reilly and Hannity every night,” Ray remembered. “Carlos would suck his thumb, something he also got teased for. But he would sit next to me and he would suck his thumb, and with his other hand, he would reach over his head and play with my ear for two hours. I would just hold him.”

One of many memories his mother shared was when she was working for Warehouse 508, a youth art space in Downtown Albuquerque, they learned the city was considering cutting funding to the program.

“Carlos organized the Youth Creative Crew together and went and spoke in front of the city council,” she said of her then 14-year-old son. “He came in and was not afraid of anything.”

But in the end, his parents said they believe their son was tired of defending himself — tired of trying to live up to other people’s standards.

“I want people to carry on his purpose and his mission and that’s to stop bullying,” Jacqueline said. “Fortunately, his purpose is being spread nationwide. His purpose, through his death, is being carried on, and I want people to know that the definition of bullying isn’t a playground fight. It’s very emotional. It happens on the Internet, it happens in the work place, it happens everywhere. We just need to respect each other as human beings.”

Jacqueline wants everyone to know how much is family loved Carlos and hopes that no other family has to go through what they’re going through right now.

“I just want to thank everyone for the outpour of love we have received,” she said. “I don’t think we realized how many people loved him until we saw 500 to 550 people at the hospital. But he couldn’t see it. Maybe he will now.”

Two bank accounts have been set up in honor of Carlos, one at U.S. New Mexico Federal Credit Union and another at New Mexico Educators Credit Union.

A viewing will be held at 6 p.m., Friday, July 19, at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, 1400 Arenal Road SW, in Albuquerque, with a Rosary to be held at 7 p.m. A Funeral Mass will be held at 9 a.m., Saturday, July 27.

Carlos Vigil is survived by his parents, Ray and Jacqueline; and brothers, Ray Jr. and Vincent.

(Reporter Julia M. Dendinger contributed to this story.)


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.