Family of Jamaica Plain man shot to death over a pair of sneakers seeks justice

BOSTON — A Jamaica Plain man was shot and killed a week ago in Hyde Park after meeting a potential buyer for a pair of sneakers.

Officials say the shooting happened at around 10 p.m. on Nov. 16 in the area of Church Street in Hyde Park.

Now, the family of the victim, 20-year-old Bolivar del Jesus Soto Jr., says they’re seeking justice and want to arrest those responsible for his death.

Boston 25 News Reporter Malini Basu sat down with the victim’s heartbroken mother and brother.

“No mother should ever bury her son,” said Maria Guerrero Torres, the victim’s mother.

Torres says her last conversation with her son was about bringing bread home and that her son had said he’d be home soon. A couple of hours later, officers arrived at her door to tell her that son had been was shot and killed.

He was one of her six children who was working on becoming an accomplished man.

Soto was supposed to graduate in May from Bunker Hill Community College and wanted to become a firefighter. He had a love for sneakers and was part of different sneaker clubs. Torres says it’s that very passion that led to him getting shot.

“Not a 20-year-old, not for a pair of sneakers, not Bolivar. Not the kind of person he was,” said Torres.

Heartbreak, grief and a sense of feeling numb is what Torres says she is going through.

“The kid tried to give him fake money,” said Javier Soto, Bolivar’s older brother.

He says Bolivar and his friend went to meet a potential buyer for a pair of sneakers.

“They argued and got into a fight,” said Soto. “I think the kid had every intention of robbing my brother and his friend, he brought a gun. He obviously thought about the possible outcome.”

Torres is sending out a message for others who were in her son’s shoes.

“If you are going to do any business, go to the police station, where there are cameras, and don’t go to dark places,” said Torres.

Bolivar was a popular, athletic man who played baseball and soccer.

BHCC’s president sent out a memo to students saying in part, “Bolivar’s death was senseless and random.”

“I’m pleading to the Boston Police Department, and the DA, please catch this person that did this to my son before he does it to someone else,” said Torres.

Bolivar’s mother has had an outpouring of support from the community, but nothing will bring back her son.

Anyone who may have any kind of information that could be helpful in Bolivar’s death investigation is asked to contact Boston Police, even if it’s the slightest bit of information.

Bolivar’s funeral arrangements are set for Tuesday evening at Lion of Judah Church. The family has set up a GoFundMe account, hoping it will pay for funeral arrangements. If you would like to help the family you can click on this link.

Dear Members of the College Community,

I write today with great sadness to ask you to join me in mourning the death of our student, Bolivar del Jesus Soto, Jr. He was shot and killed on Church Street in Hyde Park last Monday night, the victim of a robbery. Bolivar was a young Black man of twenty, full of talent and promise. As we reached out to his teachers, his classmates and his family, we learned that he was engaged and shined as a student and beloved by his classmates and teachers alike.

We lost Bolivar to the plague of senseless gun violence that has decimated our communities, and especially our communities of color, and our young Black men. Bolivar’s death was senseless and random. This plague of violence must not be normalized, and we use every tool as educators to bring understanding to hearts and minds that we must stop the violence, and stop losing our most precious gifts.

Today, we mourn the loss of this talented young life by speaking the memories of those who were closest to him. Hear what his teachers loved about Bolivar, and remember the joyful moments of his life:

From Professor Lloyd Sheldon Johnson:

The news of Bolivar's death left me stunned and immobile. I can't look at the photo of him without being moved to tears. He was the shining light in my all-male Learning Community Seminar. On the first day he arrived, he brought radiance to the group. He sat in the front of the class, formed in a circle, and "dapped" up everyone in the class when he arrived. We were often blessed with a song, which he graciously shared. I worked to connect him with one of my best friends who teaches voice at Berklee, with the caveat that he would get a few college degrees first.

Bolivar and I continued contact after the semester was over; we never lost connection. As one of his mentors, he wanted to dig deeper into the spiritual meanings of life. He enjoyed telling stories, asking questions, and listening to me share stories of the lessons I learned and the wisdom I garnered over the years. He had a powerful influence on all the young men in the class; I know this because they told me. I know this because they have called me, weeping and sobbing uncontrollably on the phone, while talking about how the impact of Bolivar, "one of the smartest kids I know," as one put it, and the class changed their lives.

Along with the picture of Bolivar that is glued in my consciousness are the many memories of his kindness and sincere engagement. When we shared a learning experience while viewing Maddu's work in the gallery, he was all eyes and ears. When the class mentor, Luca, and I quizzed him for preparation for his sociology class, he took it all in. Bolivar never uttered an unkind word, spoke highly of his mother and her power as a mother and supporter, and was not reluctant to offer a humble "thanks."

It is so rare to form an immediate bond with a student. It's like I could feel the restless energy in his soul, the energy that would have propelled him to greatest in many different areas of life: music, writing, teaching, helping, leading, and soaring in career areas that would bring the needed changes in the lives of so many who suffer.

Yes, I have cried with my students. Yes, we have shared quiet moments, frozen with grief. Yes, we will take the time to honor Bolivar with shrines, scholarships, public tributes where we speak his name, and other forums where we can hold him up as a symbol of goodness, greatness, creativity, passion, and love.

Yes, we cry, suffer, and grieve.

Yes, we do.

From Professor Alison Ruch:

What I learned about Bolivar during the tumultuous spring 2020 semester, in American Lit II, was that he was a spirited, passionate person, that he was a dedicated learner and a fighter of injustice. Bolivar was a thoughtful, inquisitive student. You could see his wise wheels turning on weighty topics—so serious—and then, when he made some realization, he would delight, and he’d burst into a smile, dimples and all. Bolivar visibly loved learning, and his love was contagious and magnetic. Everyone wanted to be around him, to learn from him, and to be inspired by his curiosity and vibrancy. Bolivar wrote a love poem to the Dominican Republic and an analysis of American immigrant labor literature, which won the class’s title contest, called “A Reformed Slavery.” His final project included a poem dedicated to abolishing gender discrimination. He loved music, I learned, and the poems he wrote and shared reflected this love. Once—or was it twice?—I was lucky enough to overhear him singing.

The sudden shift to remote learning was especially hard on Bolivar, who loved people and who had served as a social connector in my class and no doubt others, too. But he persevered, as was his nature, and he weathered his way through that storm. I looked back today at some messages I last received from Bolivar. They contained some emojis of frustration, missing the classroom as it had been, but, more than that, were several instances of the image of two hands pressed together in gratitude, thanking me. I am so glad that in one of my messages I felt moved to tell him he was a wonderful person and student. I will miss Bolivar, as I know so many people will. The loss is massive, and I am so sorry for his family--who he held so dear—and for those friends closest to him.

From Professor Caroline Kautsire:

I had Bolivar in my Contemporary African American Literature class, and I remember him being a student who gave his all in his school work. He was the kind of student who was ready to greet me after a long day—bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He was the kind of student who gave me his best work and made sure he poured his heart into it. He was the kind of student who wanted me to know that he was present and ready to respond to any challenge I threw at him. He was the kind of student who cared—the kind we all want in a classroom because our discussions become enriched by his insights. He had a great mind, a phenomenal heart, and this news just tore me apart. He will be greatly missed. May his soul Rest In Peace.

From Professor Vijaya Sundaram:

Bolivar Soto was a shining light, and the life of the room in the truest sense of those words. He was in my ENG-111 class in the fall of 2019, and in my current remote asynchronous Fall ENG-112 class this year.

Last year, when I taught him in person, he was the life of the class - he had an open, smiling, happy countenance, and a clear thirst for knowledge. His was an attitude that was aglow with positivity, both with regard to my teaching, and also with other students in the class. One of my top participants in any class discussion, he felt deeply about social injustice, and shared his thoughts eloquently.

He carried himself with ease and pride as an Afro-Latino male (as he described himself). His writing was eloquent, passionate, and filled with depth. In his introductory self-descriptive essay last fall, he spoke about the great love and support he got from his family, especially his elder brothers, who taught him right from wrong. He spoke about some of the struggles his mother had undergone in raising them all by herself, and doing a fine job. He always sought to learn more about the world and about anything he was learning in class. I remember distinctly that he initiated a student conference meeting with me (apart from the one I did with all my students mid-way through the semester), in order to get some help with an essay for another class, an essay which he had already done very well. It pleased me very much that he showed such initiative.

Whenever I walked down the hallways of the college, I'd see him in the company of friends, all of whom seemed to love him. His was the kind of popularity that wasn't shallow, or for show. He truly liked people, and shared his spirit with ease.

This year, when I saw his name on the roster for my remote asynchronous class, I was delighted. As I expected, he was always one of the two or three people who participated actively in online forum discussions. He was caught up with his work (missing only a minor assignment), but would occasionally reach out to me if he felt he might be late in submitting work. I loved his presence in my class. He was at an A- when I last checked his grades, and when I grade all the responses on the online forum discussions, I'm sure that that grade will probably change to an A.

He was my ideal student. He was a lovely human being. I am beyond heart-broken that he had to die so young. It's hard to reconcile the idea of his death with the vibrant, vivacious, living energy of his entire personality.

Rest in Peace, Bolivar. I shall miss you, and mourn you always, but you will not be forgotten. You will be alive in memory. With love and sorrow.

Condolences to all of you who knew Bolivar, and peace to our college community,

—  Bunker Hill Community College faculty, staff and students