MERRILLVILLE — Standing feet away from where their son used to play basketball, the father of 16-year-old Johnny Peluyera held a framed photo of his son. The couple had called a small meeting with the media Thursday in front of their Merrillville home of 15 years, where Johnny Peluyera grew up.

“This is his neighborhood,” his mother, Kelly Arroyo, said. “He used to say, 'This is my block.'”

His father, John Peluyera, pointed out a blue Trans Am sitting in the nearby driveway that was being fixed. The teen died before he could take it out on the road, she said. It still had white, rain-streaked writing on the driver's side window that said, “RIP Johnny.”

The grieving couple wanted to find a way to express their gratitude to the multitudes who reached out to them following the loss of their son on June 12, when he was shot and killed while trying to sell his Xbox. Taking in deep breaths, Arroyo read a statement of thanks to family, friends and strangers alike, the emotion welling up in her voice.

“'Thank you' will never be the words to express how deeply (grateful) we are for the amount of love, generosity and all the support for our family and people around the world who did not know our baby boy, Johnny,” Arroyo said. “Hearing the moments his friends and teachers shared truly touched our hearts. Johnny was a funny, helpful and respectful person, and I am so proud to know that our son carried those qualities in the world and made a positive impact.”

The teen's bus driver, the Merrvillville High School principal and his high school and elementary school teachers showed up at his funeral services Sunday, Arroyo said. Xbox staff has also emailed Arroyo, saying news of the teen's death has reached all the way to fellow gamers in Scotland, who donated to the family. She asked for people to keep her family in their thoughts and prayers.

“I especially plead to all parents,” Arroyo said, pausing for a moment. “Hold your babies. Tell them every day you love them and you're proud of them.”

On the evening of June 12, Johnny Peluyera and his father drove to the 5000 block of Maryland Street in Gary to sell the teen's Xbox to prospective buyers who connected with the teen online. A suspect brandished a handgun and shot the teen as he was running back to his father's car, police said.

“It's very hard to process. I've lost many nights of sleep since then,” John Peluyera said. “It's like a DVD; over and over. Pause, play, pause, play, rewind. It's something you won't overcome very easy. Like my wife says, it's going to be a long recovery that's going to be very long, very hard and rough.”

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It's been a series of heartbreaks for the family. Two weeks ago the family's German shepherd puppy, “Jerry Lee,” was hit by a car in front of their home. On Wednesday, Johnny Peluyera's cat, “Little Boy,” died, Arroyo said. Johnny Peluyera also left behind an 8-year-old brother and a 23-year-old sister, who is fighting stage-four cancer. Johnny was the only person who could bring a smile to his big sister's face, his father said.

“The harder days are still to come because now we have the 'what ifs' and what he would be like as a grown man,” Arroyo said. “Johnny will be a boy forever missed and a man the world will miss. We truly are speechless and in complete awe that his story of his life has gone this viral and I pray that in our tragedy and unnecessary heart break, that lessons can be learned for all.”

Following the tragedy, Gary police said people should be cautious in buyer-seller transactions and to use safe public areas to meet, such as police stations. Police are still searching for the suspects, described as two black men in their late teens or early 20s last seen wearing hoodies and basketball shorts, police said. 

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The parents also had a message for the suspects who shot their son. Arroyo said the person who pulled the trigger took away her laughter, her best friend and her “little partner in crime.”

“Bring yourself in,” John Peluyera said. “It's a life you took that somebody loved. My son had a big bright future ahead of him that you shattered. It's not something you can replace. It's not a book you can open and close and re-read again. It's a chapter that was started and is never going to end. You took not only a soul, but you took half of my soul that nothing will ever fulfill again, and a little brother who is lost.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Mike Equihua of the Lake/Gary Metro Homicide Unit at 219-755-3852.

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Night Crime/Breaking News Reporter

Anna Ortiz is the breaking news/crime reporter for The Times, covering crime, politics, courts, investigative news and more. She is a Region native and graduate of Ball State University with a major in journalism and minor in anthropology.