Nobody Is Talking

Cold case: Four years ago, Ricardo Varela, 15, was killed in a drive-by shooting

Robert Varela doesn't need to look far to be reminded of the way-too-short life of his son Ricardo.

When looking at his oldest daughter, Roseanne, he sees someone who, like Ricardo, strived to use a good education to make it in life.

"Those two had plans together," Robert said. "You couldn't separate those two. They were going to get an apartment together."

When watching his youngest children, it brings to mind how Ricardo was "everybody's baby sitter," to family and to friends within their midtown neighborhood.

And when Robert Varela sees gang activity on his street, it serves as a painful reminder of how, even though Ricardo apparently had no such involvement, gang violence took his son.

"It never happens to the people who are looking for (trouble)," Robert said last week, with the fourth anniversary of Ricardo's death weighing heavily on his mind. "He had a lot of potential to become somebody. It's just sad that it had to end like that."

Ricardo Varela was shot in the head on Feb. 3, 2008, when a bullet fired from an SUV traveling down a street in the Old Pascua neighborhood near Grant Road and Interstate 10 struck Ricardo above the eye. He died the next day, at age 15.

Ricardo, who had been visiting his grandmother for the weekend, had stepped outside to speak with some cousins and other family members who were gathered in the carport when the shooting occurred.

Tucson police have no official suspects in the case, though the Varela family is certain the shooting is in some way connected to a nearby party that might have gotten out of hand.

"There was a party just up the street, and some people got kicked out or something," Robert said. "Somebody had to have seen something, but no one is talking."

Roseanne Varela, who was 18 at the time of her brother's death, said she was just getting ready to go to sleep when she received the call about Ricardo. The siblings were both attending Canyon Rose Academy, an eastside charter school, at the time.

"He was a really nice kid; he got along with everybody," Roseanne said.

The Varela family is adamant that Ricardo had no gang involvement. His personality went against such participation, they say.

"I took him to Old Tucson one time, and he got scared of the gunshots, and he was scared of fireworks until he was about 12 years old," Robert said. "He was the type of kid who wasn't into violence. Whenever his little cousins would want to fight with each other, he'd break it up."

Ricardo's main interests revolved around music—not so much singing and performing, but he loved working behind the scenes, or at a computer, to make music come alive.

"He liked to hear people sing," his father said. "He liked mixing songs. He would get on the computer and just put different songs together. He wanted to be more of a music producer. The singing part ... he was shy."

Such memories have become easier for Robert Varela to talk about thanks to the support he and his wife, Lisa, have received from Homicide Survivors, a nonprofit affiliated with the Pima County Attorney's Office that serves as a shoulder to lean on and a sounding board for those affected by homicides.

"Homicide Survivors, they've been from the beginning like guardian angels," Robert said. "Without them, I would have been lost. People who have been through this, what we're going through ... they can talk to you openly. To talk to somebody who hasn't been through this, they look at it as, 'You know what, you've just got to try to forget about it and move on.' That's impossible to do."

Robert said he took steps to have a memorial wall put up in Old Pascua, but a combination of neighborhood friction and finance problems ended that plan.

For the most part, the Varelas haven't often gone to the neighborhood where Ricardo was shot, despite the presence of family members. The close-knit manner of the neighborhood, Robert believes, is one reason why no one has come forward with information related to the shooting.

"I'm more than sure there is someone who knows something," Robert said. "If somebody gets invited to a party and gets kicked out, somebody has to know.

"If they catch the killer, I would like to ask them, 'Why?' I guarantee you 100 percent that he didn't know my son."