GARY — The story of the 16-year-old Merrillville boy who was fatally shot in the back over an Xbox has spread nationwide. Since the shooting Wednesday, the last few days have been a whirlwind for his family.
Johnny Peluyera was a Merrillville High School student who had just completed his sophomore year. His summer had just begun and he had just gotten his driver's license last week. His whole life was ahead of him.
"He was so excited, but we had to wait; the driver's license was still coming in the mail," said his mother, Kelly Arroyo. "I got it yesterday. He didn't even get to hold it."
Now his family is preparing for his funeral Sunday.
“He was very special,” Arroyo said. “He was my laughter every day. He was the only one who got me through bad days. Now he's gone.”
The teen was simply trying to sell his Xbox to people he met online, Gary police said.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday in the 5000 block of Maryland Street in Gary, the prospective buyers asked to test the game console, using outlets on the outside of two nearby homes. Things turned for the worst when a silver handgun was brandished by a suspect, Gary police Cmdr. Jack Hamady said.
Johnny Peluyera's father, who was with him, told the 16-year-old to run back to their vehicle, Hamady said. The teen was hit before making it to the car's passenger seat, with the Xbox still in his hands.
He made it into the vehicle and the father and son were able to drive to a nearby intersection and call 911. Johnny Peluyera was pronounced dead at the scene by the Lake County coroner.
A peaceful homebody who enjoyed staying in with family and friends, Johnny Peluyera was a car enthusiast who loved Trans Ams and a gamer who was a dedicated "Fortnite" fan.
His sister, Vanessa Peluyera, remembers the way her little brother would yell at the screen while gaming and their talks about future plans to get tattoos one day.
"He was a fluffy teddy bear," Vanessa Peluyera said. "Him and my mom were the comedy show. He would mess with her and she would chase him around with anything she could find, and they would chase each other around the house. It was hilarious and then they'd play fight. Johnny was the heart and soul that kept this family together with laughter and jokes."
Johnny Peluyera was the middle child between Vanessa Peluyera and their 8-year-old brother, Cayden Peluyera. Arroyo said it was a typical big and little brother relationship, but she knew her oldest son would always be there for his little brother when he needed him.
“Cayden looked up to Johnny,” Arroyo said. “He may not completely understand it right now but he loves his big brother. Cayden would copy him all of the time.”
Arroyo said she and her family have been blown away at people's responses since the death of her son became nationwide news.
“My son made it across the U.S., from the east coast to the west coast,” Arroyo said. “It's incredible to know our son is that special. It's an incredible feeling.”
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A fundraiser on Facebook called "To lay Johnny to rest" was set up by family friend Diana Tracie to help the family pay for the teen's funeral expenses, including a ceremony and burial. In the past three days, 164 people donated $4,568, out of the $5,000-goal, to the cause as of Saturday evening.
“It's overwhelming,” Arroyo said. “We are grateful. It's hard to describe, but it proves there's a lot of people out there who are good. The amount of love and support from people who don't know us, or our son, has been amazing.”
Arroyo said other auto aficionados have since reached out to her to bring her son's favorite cars, Trans Ams, to his funeral service and said another car club is planning a memorial ride in his honor.
Johnny's funeral service will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Calumet Park Funeral Chapel at 7535 Taft St., Merrillville. Visitation is from 1-8 p.m and instead of flowers, donations can be made to Johnny’s family at the chapel, according to the obituary.
Police have since asked the public for help in solving the homicide.
The suspects — two black men in their late teens or early 20s — were last seen wearing hoodies and basketball shorts, Hamady said. The men fled the scene after the boy was shot.
"The two suspects had to be from the neighborhood," Hamady said. "They lured (Peluyera) into the area. Someone has to know these guys. In the case of the last teen who was shot, an anonymous tip helped us find the suspect. We are hoping someone will come forward with information this time, too."
Though the suspects took her son's life, Arroyo still has empathy in her heart in the midst of unimaginable grief.
“I don't understand what's wrong with the world these days,” Arroyo said of her son's homicide. “What makes it more sad is that the kids who did this aren't much older than Johnny. It's hard for me to say, but I feel bad for the kids and their families. Because when those kids are caught, their families are going to lose their babies, too.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Mike Equihua of the Lake/Gary Metro Homicide Unit at 219-755-3852. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.
Check back at nwi.com for updates as this story develops.