He and his wife had raised Diego and his brothers as their own.
“I always asked my wife for one more son,” he said, through a translator.
In 2007, after Juana Salcedo’s sister died, the couple took in her three boys.
“So when the three of them arrived, she said ‘You see, you’ve got three more now,’” Felipe Salcedo said. “And that’s how we dealt with it. They were three sons to us.”
The youngest, Diego, was only a year old at the time.
“We all looked at each other as part of the family,” Juana Salcedo said, through a translator. “They were our sons.”
On Sept. 16, 2019, Diego was assaulted by two of his fellow students at Landmark Middle School in the Moreno Valley Unified School District. The family had complained about bullying by the two boys the Friday before.
That Monday, they sucker-punched Diego. His head struck a pillar and he fell to the ground, unconscious. Diego’s two assailants weren’t done, though, and continued punching him. He died eight days later, having never woken back up. The two boys who assaulted him have been charged with assault and voluntary manslaughter and the Salcedos have sued their families and the school district.
A year later, Felipe Salcedo still wears the band he used to visit Diego in the hospital. He might cut it off Wednesday, Sept. 16 — the 1-year anniversary of the 13-year-old being rushed to the hospital, unconscious.
Diego isn’t truly gone from the Salcedo household. There’s a shrine dedicated to him in the front hall, with the urn containing his ashes, candles, photos and handprints.
“It’s hard, because we see his photos everywhere,” Felipe Salcedo said. “We see his smile. In my case, I miss him asking me, as he did, ‘How was work today, are you tired?’ Out of all of my children, he was the most affectionate. He would always give me a kiss, he’d hug me. I liked it, because it made me feel like he loved me.”
Diego shared a bedroom with his middle brother, who’s now 16. The upper bunk is still Diego’s, piled with mementos from the vigils held in his name.
“I go into his room very few times,” said Juana Salcedo, crying. “I don’t want to accept this yet. To me, it just doesn’t seem like he is not here.”
Diego’s 16-year-old brother Daniel still lives in the room. Before his little brother’s death, the two squabbled over their shared space.
“They used to fight over their clothes,” Juana Salcedo said. “They would fight over their shoes, their socks. Now, nobody touches those things.”
Diego’s two brothers lost their mother in 2007 and their father in 2014. The two Stolz boys are maintaining a strong facade, according to Juana and Felipe Salcedo.
“It’s kind of like they’ve built up a wall for protection,” Felipe Salcedo said.
Beyond being loving and kind, Diego was a hard-working student, Felipe and Juana Salcedo said. He loved soccer and basketball and camping with his family.
“Kids, they’ll say I want to be this, I want to be that. He was undecided,” Felipe said. “But he did want to work at something that would help people in the community.”
But Diego had some specific ambitions.
“He wanted to go to college. He wanted to buy his own car. He wanted to work hard,” Juana Salcedo said. “He said, when we would get older …”
“We are old,” her husband interjected.
“When we are much older, he said he would take us out for diversions and vacations,” Juana Salcedo finished.
During Diego’s last days in the hospital, Felipe Salcedo went to ask the boy who had looked up to him as a father for forgiveness.
“I asked him for forgiveness, because perhaps I did not teach him how to fight,” he said, tearing up. “I only taught him to be respectful and not fight back, but just to go to the principal or teacher and talk about it but not fight back. I asked him for forgiveness. Perhaps I made a mistake.”
Felipe Salcedo and Diego’s birthdays are only separated by a few days. Each May, they shared a birthday cake.
“We would blow out the candles together,” Felipe Salcedo said. “This year, I had to do it all by myself.”