Mother of teen shot at Bush Park calls for anti-bullying programs, more help to prevent shootings

Aida Valenzuela still doesn’t know why her son sometimes refused to go to school.

It’s one of many lingering questions she has about Jose, 16, who was shot and killed in Bush’s Pasture Park on March 7.

“I couldn’t help my kid,” Valenzuela said, speaking Friday to a room of about 100 people at a city forum on reducing gun violence. She’s a teacher in the Salem-Keizer Head Start preschool program.

Valenzuela said she wants to help other parents and encouraged those at the meeting to notice if their kids are behaving strangely, talk to them, and open their eyes to violence in schools.

“You can fix this by listening,” she said.

Valenzuela said in an interview following the event that she still doesn’t know why her son was shot or what led up to the fatal encounter in the park that afternoon.

A 16-year-old classmate at South Salem High School is accused of killing Jose and wounding two other boys.

Valenzuela said she tried to get her son to open up to her. She wondered if he was dealing with bullying, and said she wanted the school to share more information.

“He didn’t tell me anything, but he was refusing to go to school,” she said. “They called me later when he was dead. Too late, so what?”

Addressing bullying was one of many suggestions the boy’s parents made at the Friday forum. Both also said the widespread availability of legal marijuana encourages teenagers to misbehave.

Aida Valenzuela listens to questions at a community forum on gun violence on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Jose was the youngest of three, said his father, Alvaro Vazquez. The family lives in southeast Salem, near the Walgreens on Southeast Lancaster Drive.

Vazquez said he wanted school officials to communicate earlier when students skip class, noting that parents don’t get a call until the end of a class period, or sometimes the end of the day. By then, he said, teenagers can be roaming the streets for hours.

“It needs to be the minute they leave,” he said.

Both Jose and the classmate accused of killing him were supposed to be in class at the time of the shooting, district officials said in the days following the violence.

Valenzuela also posed a question Friday to police Chief Trevor Womack at the Friday meeting: How are teenagers getting guns?

Many Salemites have asked police that in recent months as the city contends with an increase in shootings.

Womack told Valenzuela that kids get guns in many places — some are stolen, some are traded between kids on social media. Teens involved in gangs can get guns from older gang members.

The mother said she intends to stay involved in efforts to reduce gun violence. It’s a little easier for her to talk about her son now, she said, after lots of praying and time to reflect.

“I couldn’t help my son, but I want to help other young people,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.