Syracuse Tragedy: Rising Gun Violence Claims Life of Middle-Schooler with Bright Future

Syracuse Tragedy: Rising Gun Violence Claims Life of Middle-Schooler with Bright Future

The tragic death of middle-schooler Brexi Torres-Ortiz highlights the harsh reality of gun violence in America.

A heartfelt gospel song resounds through the Torres-Ortiz home: “Take me to the King.” It was the favorite tune of 11-year-old Brexi Torres-Ortiz, a bright and promising young girl tragically gunned down while making a simple trip to buy milk.

“You will cry just listening to her sing it,” recalls her devastated mother, Brenlee “Bre” Ortiz. “It’s like, she was so young, how did she know what this song was saying?”

The poignant hymn has taken on new meaning since the heart-wrenching incident. Young Brexi, whose full name was Brexialee, was caught in a hail of gunfire just 40 feet from her Syracuse home. She became one of the tragic statistics that now sees firearms surpassing motor vehicles as the leading killer of children and teens in the US since 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The grim evening of January 16 was initially envisioned as a cozy family night, with homemade macaroni and cheese and a movie. Instead, it ended with Brexi on life support and her family grappling with an unimaginable loss.

Brexi’s killers were swiftly apprehended. Three suspects, aged 16, 18, and 20, were arrested within 10 days of the incident. Two have since pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, with the third slated for trial next year. As the justice system works its course, Ortiz vows to attend every hearing. However, she admits, “As soon as I open my eyes, it’s her on my mind… But they’re not dreams; they’re nightmares.”

Brexi’s image, stuffed animals and other decorations adorn her grave. Courtesy Brenlee Ortiz

Brexi’s vibrant life and the impact of her untimely death have deeply resonated within her community. Teachers, peers, and even strangers remember her as someone who “knew how to be a best friend to everybody.” At her funeral, a recurring sentiment from many children was simple: “She was my best friend.”

Leeza Roper, a teacher at Syracuse STEM at Blodgett Middle School, spoke about Brexi’s lasting impact. “Her legacy lives on in the hearts of those she touched.”

The depth of the tragedy and its effect on her schoolmates became evident when the school’s psychologist, Kayla Gallagher, went room to room to help students cope. “The children are so used to this violence that they helped the adults in the building grieve,” Gallagher revealed.

The Boys and Girls Club at Central Village renamed its site after Brexi. Syracuse Police Department

To keep her spirit alive, Brexi’s school celebrates her life every month on “Brexi Day.” Activities range from talent shows to decorating the campus. Outside school, her legacy lives on at the Boys and Girls Club at Central Village, where a sign bearing her name stands as a testament to the “wonderful impression” she left behind.

Community efforts to remember Brexi don’t stop there. The Syracuse Police Department collaborated with the Syracuse Housing Authority to place a bench in front of the building in her memory.

As the community remembers, grieves, and seeks justice for Brexi, her mother has one simple wish for her daughter’s legacy: “I want them to be motivated to do more and to be better.”

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