Emotional words, tears of remembrance and purple glow sticks filled the air at the Pedro “Javi” Roman candlelight vigil on Thursday.
The crowd of hundreds of friends, fellow Valencia High School students and community members gathered in Central Park on Thursday to celebrate the life of Pedro, who died earlier this week at the age of 17 following a recent relapse of his cancer.
Before the vigil had even begun, students clad in purple and gold began filing into the park — some hugging one another, others standing side by side in silence, waiting for the familiar voices of their teammates and classmates to begin speaking about Roman.
“He was such a good, good kid,” said Alana Altmayer, a family friend of Roman’s. “And anybody that knew him knew what a good kid … I feel very honored that I got to spend the time that I spent with Pedro.”
Throughout the evening, with people walking to the front of the crowd to make a speech on the back of a truck with a hooked-in microphone, a few words continually echoed out about the young middle linebacker: kind, loyal and a fighter.
“He had a connection with almost every single person he met,” said Tristan Wood, one of Roman’s good friends, who spoke during the event. “I know a lot of you that can say that you have one memory that you will never forget about him.”
Gathered at the foot of the truck, wearing shirts with Roman’s name written across them, were his football teammates, now juniors at Valencia. Although he was unable to be at their practices — when they were allowed to practice within COVID-19 restrictions — for the past year, they said he was “forever in their heart.”
“When you play football, everybody is a brother; once you sign up it’s all a brotherhood,” said Deyar Alrabadi. “He’s a brother to all of us that play football.”
Teammates told stories about how hard Roman pushed on the football field, and how much he wanted to be there for everyone. Others told stories about how joking around on Roman might have gone over the line for him, but he would text them before they even had a chance to apologize.
As teammates hopped off the back of the truck after speaking, many of them in tears, Roman’s former junior varsity squad would be there to greet them, pulling them in to cry together.
Roman was said by those there to have had an endearing personality, one that was founded on joking around with friends while also setting aside anything to assist someone in need.
“Pedro always made sure everyone knew you were loved,” said Ava Kirkwood, a classmate and friend of Roman’s. “And he showed that through, like making fun of me, like he would always come up to me with a ‘Hey BigHead,’ but that’s how you knew you were loved by him.”
“And everyone else would come back with a, ‘Hey Blockhead,’” Kirkwood joked, something that was greeted by laughter from his teammates as though everyone was in on the amicable inside joke.
A number of non-teammates said he was someone who freely gave respect, but earned his, and that his love for his family was something that always stood out. His desire and need to protect people he cared for was noted in a number of stories, with some saying that he would be willing to be at someone’s side at the drop of a hat.
“I remember talking to him, and just sitting on the floor next to him, helping me though just my life struggles,” said Kirkwood. “He always had the best advice.”
“He was such a sweet soul.”
The night ended with people showing Roman the love he never demanded, but was freely given by all those around him anyway, with the entire crowd yelling out in unison: