'He didn't deserve that': Family mourns honor student killed helping grandmother

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- A family and a community is mourning an innocent 18-year-old who was struck by a stray bullet while carrying groceries to his grandmother in New Jersey on Wednesday.

Robert Cuadra, an honor roll student who despite a difficult upbringing had earned a scholarship to Montclair State University in the fall, was gunned down on Godwin Avenue in Paterson, struck in the head by a bullet meant for someone else.

"He didn't deserve a bullet to the head," mom Ivernis Santiago said while clutching his college acceptance letter, which arrived Friday. "He didn't deserve that at all. He was a good kid."

That grandmother was near her grandson when the shots rang out, as the two of them took groceries off a transport bus outside their home. She said it happened so fast.

"He had his Beats headphones in," her grandaughter translated from Spanish. "She said he would've never had his headphones, he would've reacted."

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Cuadra was being remembered as a dedicated student at HARP Academy who cared for his family and friends, a hard-working, polite, humble and intelligent young man.

"The hearts of everyone in the Paterson Public Schools community are broken by the violent loss of this promising young man," Superintendent Eileen Shafer said. "Robert Cuadra was a dedicated honors student who looked forward to starting the next chapter of his life in college this fall. Robert cared for his family, and the reports that he was fatally shot while delivering groceries to his grandmother's home speak to his character and add to the bitterness of his being taken away from us. We pray that Robert's aunt, his grandmother, his mother, and the rest of his family find comfort during this most difficult time. May we all resolve to end the senseless violence that has taken so many good people like Robert."

At HARP Academy, he was an honors student who took classes at Rutgers University through the district's dual enrollment program.

"We all mourn the loss of this incredible young man with a tremendously bright future," principal Kelli White said. "Everyone loved Robert. There are no words. He will be missed."

School officials said Cuadra had a cooperative and sincere spirit, was always willing to help others, and truly embraced HARP Academy's motto of "Service Above Self."

During his freshman year of high school, Cuadra earned a full college scholarship that included room and board through the Give Back Scholarship Program.

During his three and half years at HARP Academy, Cuardra was an active member of the Interact Club, he participated in numerous service projects including Breast Cancer and March of Dimes walks, canned food and clothing drives, Habitat for Humanity-home construction, Leukemia/Lymphoma-coin collection, and The Heifer International Project.

He enjoyed boxing and he recently was teaching himself to play the guitar.

Cuadra worked at a well-known catering hall in Paterson, and his mother wants the world to know he was a good kid who deserved so much better.

"He was born and raised here," she said. "He was born at St. Joe's Hospital. He died at St. Joe's Hospital."

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Police said at least 16 shots were fired between the two men involved in the gun battle.

Mayor Andre Sayegh said he spoke with the teen's mother and offered his office's support.



On Thursday night, friends returned to the scene of the crime to write condolences for Cuadra's family.

"He wasn't a street kid, he wasn't a violent kid, he was a natural, good, innocent kid," his cousin Carlos Traverso, Jr. said.

No arrests have been made, but Cuadra's family says the gunmen should surrender.

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