PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- Students at a high school in Paterson, New Jersey graduated Tuesday without one of their classmates, who was shot and killed five months ago after getting caught in a gang crossfire.
"I miss him, because I need him. I don't know how to explain it, sometimes call his cellphone because I miss him so much," Ivernis Santiago said.
Tuesday was not about how Robert Cuadra died. It's about how he lived and loved his mom. It's about how they inspired each other to be their very best.
"He inspired me when I was doing my GED," Cuadra's mother Ivernis Santiago said. "It was fun, cause I would call him in class and say Robert, how do you do this? He'd say, 'mom I'm in class.'"
The Harp Academy of Health Science class of 2022, walked Tuesday without their classmate.
In January, Cuadra was shot dead after being caught in the crossfire of warring rivals.
He had been helping his grandmother take groceries into her home. Someone else's criminal act took his life.
"Robert was a beautiful young man with his sweet, sweet spirit," Harp Academy Principal Kelli White said.
Cuadra's empty seat at graduation was in the front row.
"I knew Robert who someone full of ambition and determination to make his community a better place," Samiha Ahmed said.
"Even though we wish to see his smile right now, he is still graduating with us," classmate Yerlin Gomez said.
Even with mom calling him at school every once in a while for help with her homework, he stayed focused and excelled.
He would have been on his way to Montclair State University this fall on a full scholarship.
Cuadra did what he was supposed to do. He earned his way, leaving family and a community determined to never let him be forgotten.
"Those kids call me everyday and ask me how you're doing, and I ask them how they're doing because they're going through this with me," Santiago said.