BELLAIRE – Hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil Wednesday night at Evelyn's Park in Bellaire to honor the 19-year-old student that was killed in a school shooting Tuesday.
Cesar Cortes lost his life in the shooting at Bellaire High School, his family told KPRC. His loved ones describe him as a student who was excited to serve his country and did not have a mean bone in his body.
"Not only was I overwhelmed to see all of you, but it feels my heart knowing that my brother is looking from above right now, watching all of us," said Dylan Cortes, Cesar's brother. "Pray for him and be here for him, I will miss him, and he did not die in vain because I will move forward for him and my family."
Leaders from different faiths spoke at the vigil and prayed for Cesar, his family, law enforcement, along with students, teachers and staff at Bellaire High School.
"It's just so heartbreaking because that's a student, you know somebody who had a future, who was working towards their goals, so it's just so heartbreaking," said a tearful Michelle Nguyen, who is also a senior at Bellaire High School.
"He was a very nice person, he never spoke to someone in a wrong way or a rude matter," said Cameron Bayat, a senior at Bellaire High School who knew Cesar from middle school. "He was a hard-working student; he always did his work. He made jokes and made people laugh."
Many of Cesar's classmates also gathered at Evelyn's Park earlier Wednesday afternoon to make signs with messages, decorated balloons, cried and shared stories about Cortes.
"[Wednesday] is about getting together to remember Cesar," said Bellaire High School senior Shaked Masti.
Cesar's classmates are determined to share his legacy. He was in JROTC, destined for the Army. He loved to serve, students said. They said he would be remembered for his sense of duty, kindness, and integrity.
"It was tragic. It was heartbreaking. It was so shocking," said Reyon Burns, Cesar's friend and former Bellaire High School student. "I wish he was alive, but since he passed away...Cesar, he will always be remembered forever."
"Really just be there for one another because we took a huge loss, and I just really wanted some time to process with my friends and Cesar's friends and really just spread more love," said Grace Bandercan, a Bellaire High School senior who organized the vigil.
Parents at the vigil also mourned the student's death.
"Cesar was a good kid. He was sweet. He was respectful. He was just hanging out at our house during Christmas break. He was in ROTC with my daughter," said Viviana Ramirez, whose daughter attends Bellaire. "He had plans, and I feel like the school dropped the ball because this isn't the first time they found a gun on campus. This is the fourth, it's only the first time somebody got hurt, and it could have been prevented."
"I feel like this kid is my kid too. This could have been my son," said Tina Martin, a Bellaire High School parent.
Many others also called on Houston Independent School District to affect change.
Flo Rice, a substitute teacher who was injured during the Santa Fe High School deadly shooting, and her husband Scot, attended the vigil to show their support for the community.
"Coming from Santa Fe, we understand what this type of tragedy does to a community, no child should go to school and not come home, no one deserves this," said Rice. "It just breaks my heart that they lived through this trauma, and their life is forever changed because there weren't measures put in place to protect them."
"We just want to be here to add our support for the family of the students and that our hearts are just breaking that this continues," Scot said. "There are things that can be done to stop this, and that's what we're fighting for on a daily basis to stop this madness in our schools and everywhere else."
Scot advocates that schools should have dogs that can sniff ammunition and metal detectors.
Many of the students expressed fear that this situation is becoming too common in schools and Bellaire High School.
"It really scares me because this shouldn't be happening. It's not normal," Bellaire High School senior Shaked Masti. "It's too easy to be able to bring a gun into school. Anyone could."
However, students and parents vowed to make sure Cortes' life would save others' lives.
"I don't want him to die in vain," Bandercan said. "It's just time that we make a change, and I'm so so sorry that it took the death of an innocent to spark change, but we need to make it happen now."
Bellaire High School students are organizing a demonstration on Friday.