When your teammate dies


Photo by Alexander MacDonald

The coffin of Edwin Roberto Juarez Rivera is prepared for burial. He was killed in a gun accident on Christmas day.

“The Charles County Sheriff’s Office said officers responded to a home in Indian Head on Christmas evening where 17-year-old Edwin Roberto Rivera Juarez was shot. Juarez was struck in the upper body and taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.” Those words, taken from a Washington Post article, are the legacy of my teammate and friend Edwin. This is the story of the aftermath of his death.
My interactions with Edwin were almost exclusively on the soccer field playing for Takoma Park Friends United. Edwin played with us from 2017 to 2019 and then was on and off over the summer and spring of 2020. Last fall, when his focus turned to school and getting into college, soccer became less of a priority. When Edwin was on the field, he could play across the midfield line. He could even fill in at striker or center back in a pinch. He was an excellent dribbler thanks to his low center of gravity, had a powerful shot, good strength and that creative swagger that characterizes our squad. My memories of him on the team are arguing about how best to deal with certain types of center backs, making fun of him when he got sent off for punching a dude at a tournament, roasting him about attending Southern High School and blowing a three-goal lead against Bladensburg. Edwin was kind and, above all, funny. His stories and jokes were always hilarious, especially when it came to roasting someone else.
On Boxing Day, the team group chat lit up. Someone had posted a Snapchat story saying “RIP Edwin” with a picture we recognized as our Edwin. A quick check of interwebs and a few calls confirmed the worst: our teammate, our friend was dead. He got shot by a 13-year-old relative in an “accident.” Perhaps it shows how much I have parsed through the details of news articles, but something of note is that Edwin wasn’t pronounced dead at the scene. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. That means he was aware he got shot and was dying for as long as 10-15 minutes. I prefer not to think about that.
When it sunk in that Edwin was dead, I went numb. Nothing registered for a few hours. I was present, but not. From 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. nothing registered. I spent most of that day texting my teammates, sleeping, eating and doing little else. I didn’t want to do anything else, other than watch Arsenal play soccer, the game both Edwin and I loved. They won which was the only bright spot that day.
Edwin’s death hit the team hard. Like a lot of teenagers, we thought we were invincible, and maybe more so than most. A lot of my teammates have been in dangerous situations, whether on a construction site, with police or at parties, where a false move or some bad luck might get them killed. But they always came through unscathed. We bragged about times like that, where everything, including your life, is quite literally in the balance of one second. Those times make good stories and good laughs, as sardonic as that might be. If Edwin had survived, we would have made fun of him too. But he didn’t survive. We all knew it was possible; one day someone would get themselves into a situation that they would not walk away from. But no one thought it would be someone on the team who would die. Until it happened. Until Edwin didn’t walk away.
Later that night, the team’s de facto captain, Tyler, texted that we would be going to Edwin’s house to hold a vigil. I made a card for his parents, put some money in the envelope and went to write a note but drew a blank. To know that your friend and teammate, someone who you have won, lost, fought and bled with is gone is a feeling that cannot be described by words. If I don’t know how to describe what I am feeling, then what the hell do I say to his parents? I do not even remember what I wrote on that card. It definitely had a message in it, but what the message says is anyone’s guess.
I met with the rest of the team at a gas station down the street from Edwin’s house. Ty handed out roses for Edwin’s parents, most of the guys brought cards with messages and money anyway, but Ty made sure everyone had something. From there, we rolled to Edwin’s house. It was a single-wide trailer with three rooms. I knew that most of the guys came from “modest means” but seeing Edwin’s house made me appreciate just how modest their means were. On my way inside, I passed Kevin, who was crying. He had known Edwin better than most of us and was very upset by his death.

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As I entered the trailer, I had to wait for a turn in a porch area, with the sounds of Edwin’s mom sobbing in the background. That crying was probably the hardest thing about the whole experience, that sound re-played in my dreams too many times. When I entered the main room, there was a picture of Edwin surrounded by flowers, candles and cards. His mom was seated in a chair to the left of Edwin’s picture, a box of tissues in hand. I went to talk to her and give her the card I wrote. I had no idea what to say. I have never thought that I would have to speak to the grieving mom of a friend who died, much less one who died in a violent fashion. I do not remember what I said.
When I got outside, a neighbor gave me a candle and lit it for me. I just stood there with my candle, numb to the cold, the burning wax hitting my fingers and the conversations floating to my ears. Once everyone had gone inside and gotten a candle, my coach’s daughter said a prayer, we had a moment of silence for Edwin. A few minutes later, Edwin’s dad came out to talk to us. He thanked us all for coming, wished he came to more of our games and said that there would be a funeral later that week when the family got Edwin’s body.
On Wednesday, there was a text from my teammate, Kevin, saying that the funeral would be on Saturday at 10. Preparing for the funeral was grim- it was made clear that we would be able to “see” Edwin one last time. However, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him. Edwin had been shot in the chest, allegedly, so there was a good chance that his corpse would be a mess. I do not know if I would have been able to stomach looking at the mangled corpse of my friend. Fortunately, I did not have to answer that question. His parents had a closed casket funeral.
The team arrived at the funeral home early. So we found some chairs near Edwin’s coffin. We kept the jokes and stories flowing with our friend, one last time. After the service, we went to the cemetery to bury Edwin. I put flowers in his grave, along with the rest of the boys. The sound of those flowers stalks hitting the coffin was concluding, a bit like a judge’s gavel. It brooks no argument or negotiation, your friend is gone and you will get no answers for the rest of your days.