Omar ("Lil O") Rodriguez was too scared to go to school. The walk from his eighth-grade classes at Roberto Clemente Middle School to his Kensington rowhouse - along a volatile route where kids from Clemente, CEP Allegheny, Edison, and Olney High Schools often collide - had become a bruising gauntlet. He'd been beaten twice.
On his 15th and last birthday in January, says his sister, Jacqueline, "We had to go pick him up from school, just so his birthday would go OK."
But early last Sunday morning, in his own rowhouse, Omar was apparently not afraid to exchange words with his 20-year-old neighbor. Arnaldo Santiago-Torres, who told police he'd been drinking and doing drugs, would take those words as a sign of disrespect.
Soon after, he shot Omar twice in the head as the teen slept.
The slaying came almost a year after tragedy hit the 2900 block of Ella Street. Jose "Gordo" Alicea, 20, who lived two doors away, was killed while shielding Omar's mother in a cross fire. She grieved with Jose's mother, Anita Santana.
The mothers now grieve again: Omar's confessed killer, from Puerto Rico, was living with Santana.
"Her family," says Jacqueline Rodriguez, "is the family that murdered my brother. But I don't see her any different."
All last week, people who loved Omar walked up and down Ella, remembering a boy who ate cheese curls and loved the Eagles so much he would be buried with three footballs in his casket.
At night, they carried candles and wept to Cuban Link's "Flowers for the Dead"; by day, they yearned to blink it all away. "I want it," says Jacqueline, "to be like April Fool... a joke."
"What cool points do you get out of this?" she asks the spring sunshine. "Killing a kid while he's sleeping?"