‘I truly believe that’s why God sent me’: Teacher reflects on life of 12-year-old shooting victim

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Twelve-year-old Juan Lopez is remembered for his bright mind and infectious personality.

The Rochester 7th grader was shot and killed last month while walking down the street. The community gathered for his calling hours Thursday night. His funeral is Friday.

Juan is described as a bright and funny kid. A kid is who he was. Reverend Shirley Billups-Bell, his former social studies teacher from Benjamin Franklin, says Juan was always smiling and making sure others felt included. She delivered his eulogy during calling hours at Memories Funeral Home.

“He had a contagious smile simply because when he smiled he brought joy to my life,” she said.

You could feel the grief of family members during their final goodbyes. Family and friends were crying in pain as they said some of their final goodbyes to Juan Lopez.

The 12-year-old was shot and killed last month.

“Juan Lopez was a handsome, beautiful pearly white teeth Hispanic twelve-year-old and when you saw Juan, he had a smile on his face,” Billups-Bell said.

She says Juan was one of the brightest, most kind-hearted students she’s worked with.

“I never saw Juan cursing or fighting with other students,” she said. “He was smart. I think he just needed to be in a gifted class because he was bored, because he was so smart.”

She says a teacher can form special bonds with their students. For her, also sharing the role as a pastor, that’s what she says the Lord sent her there to do.

“I truly believe that’s why God sent me to Franklin, that in that 4 or 5-week span, to connect to Juan, to connect to his family,” she said. “I believe that wholeheartedly.”

Billups-Bell says Juan would confide in her now and then. She says nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary. She believes Juan was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I did not see anything that would raise a red flag,” Billups-Bell said in tears. “If I saw that I would have called.”

Juan’s funeral will be held at noon Friday at the Memories Funeral Chapel on Hudson Avenue. His final resting place will be at the Riverside Cemetery.

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