Son’s Attempted Redemption Ends In Gunfire at 19

Illustration by Molly Oleson.

Illustration by Molly Oleson.

En Español.

Jose Luis Anthony Escobar, 19, the oldest of seven children, wanted to take care of his family after his stepfather was shot and killed in a Taco Bell parking lot on Sept. 1.

“He felt he had to take the role,” said his mother, Dina Carrillo. “[Like] he had to take care of me.”

So he got a job — the first he’d ever had. Oct. 20 was his first day at work at a moving company. It would also be his last.

Shortly before 3 a.m., as he waited near the corner of 16th and Valencia streets for his friend to give him a ride home, he was approached by two suspects who shot him to death. Police believe the incident was gang-related. No arrests have been made in the case, said Police Chief Greg Suhr.

Escobar’s death underscores just how difficult it is for young men to leave behind a lifestyle that has taken the lives of many in the Mission District. It also provides a rare glimpse into a family that has been tormented by gun violence.

At home Escobar was known affectionately as “Boo,” a charismatic teen who enjoyed video games and encouraged his brothers to stay in school.

On the streets he was known as “Goofy,” a Sureño gang member who was at juvenile hall intermittently and pleaded a deal on a charge of assault with force in August, according to court records. The charges were dismissed and he was placed on probation for three years.

Sureños have experienced a resurgence in Northern California, according to the FBI’s National Gang Threat Assessment. Neighborhood merchants and residents told Mission Local that the gang’s presence is felt most around 16th and Valencia streets on weekend nights.

As far as his family was concerned, “Boo” was just like any other teenager.

“He went to his cousins’ house to talk, play games,” Carrillo said. “His cousins would come over and play the PlayStation.”

His stepsister, Christine Campos, 20, grew up with Escobar, but had lost touch with him after her father, Javier Campos, went to prison in 2010 for selling drugs.

“Every time I saw him he didn’t have baggy clothes, he was never dressed like that. He wore Hollister,” she said. “I never thought anything like this would happen. I didn’t know he had bad friends.”

What she does remember are the family outings they took together to Chuck E. Cheese’s, Tijuana and Disneyland.

“He was always smiling,” Campos said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him mad.”

The funeral program for Jose
Luis Anthony Escobar. He was 19 years old.

At his funeral, the photos on display ranged from Escobar in football gear, with the Easter Bunny or with Santa Claus, to a picture of him alone, flipping the middle finger to the camera.

“We tried to keep it family-oriented as much as possible,” Carrillo said of their outings. At home he mostly preoccupied himself by braiding his hair, “looking nice, dressing nice,” she said.

Turning His Life Around

During the three years Escobar spent intermittently in juvenile hall, he liked talking about his future and changing his life around, said Virginia Nielsen, one of his mentors there.

Most recently he talked about removing the gang tattoos on his arms, she said.

Escobar and Campos, his stepfather, took similar paths in their attempts at redemption. Campos earned his GED, a high school equivalent, while he was in prison. Escobar had also recently gotten his GED and wanted to be a civil engineer, said Nielsen.

“He was a very positive kid,” she said. “He saw his future with a lot of joy.”

While his biological father, also named Jose Escobar, “was never in the picture,” according to his mother, he was close to Campos.

When Campos was gunned down in a Taco Bell parking lot in Richmond on Sept. 1, Escobar didn’t take it well, Carrillo said.

“When he found out about [his stepfather], he did cry,” she said.

Campos’ death stemmed from a “family dispute,” the Richmond Police Department told our sister website, Richmond Confidential.

Escobar’s sense of responsibility to the family only grew after his stepfather’s killing.

“He was there from day one, getting me where we had to go, to make sure we were eating,” Carrillo said. “I don’t have that any more.”

Now it is Escobar’s brothers and sisters who have to deal with the death of their oldest brother. On the day of his funeral, several of his siblings wore white shirts with photos of their brother and words inscribed on the back: “I Miss You Boo.”

“His brothers and sister, they take it hard,” his mother said. “They looked up to him. He was trying to take care of us, not as far as monetary [things], but just trying to help. And if I had to be at work he was always there.”

Nielsen, Escobar’s mentor, recently went to the site of an altar on 16th and Rondel streets. There she encountered several people, some of whom, she said, were crying “a sea of tears.”

“Tears won’t help. What will help is if we stand firm on the [gang] situation,” Nielsen said. “What matters most is the youth — for this hatred to stop.”

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