When Chris Gutierrez opened the door and entered the party, he knew something was wrong. He could feel it in the air. He knew a kid had a gun, but he went in anyway.
Gutierrez, 19, had entered a party filled with members of “Gargulas,” a rival clique. His 16-year-old brother and cousin were by his side.
Soon, people began whispering to each other. He knew it was time to leave. They were just outside the door when a kid Gutierrez knew yelled “‘F’ Gargulas,” and the trouble began.
The leader of the rival clique pulled out his .380 caliber pistol, handed it to his friend beside him and started fighting the outspoken kid. About 60 people overflowed onto the street, blocking cars to watch the fight. Gutierrez and his group stood in the middle of the road, not able to see what was happening.
Gutierrez left the scene with his little brother and cousin that cold March night and started walking down the street when the sound of fast footsteps, approaching from behind, flooded his ears.
Gutierrez, his cousin and his brother began to run.
Out of the corner of his eye Gutierrez could see his brother running right beside him. Gutierrez made a sharp left turn onto a different street.
His brother was nowhere in sight.
That was the night he lost his brother.
Now 25 years old, Gutierrez recalls that night in Springfield, Massachusetts, that changed him forever, his hands shaking as if he had a tremor. His life consisted of drugs, alcohol and trouble. His brother’s death was a painful wakeup call, which made him turn his life around.
As he recalled his rebellious childhood, he smirked and grazed his hand over his tanned arm covered in tattoos. His parents’ separation during his second year of middle school marked the beginning of his downward spiral.
“My dad was the one that was on top of me about getting good grades and staying on the right path. Once my parents separated he was out of the house and I could do whatever I wanted,” Gutierrez said.
“When I found my brother I remember scanning his body for bullet holes. I started from his shoes and went up. When I got to his back between his shoulder blades I saw it. I knew that was it. He was done.”
With a new-found freedom emerged a degree of carelessness. Every day he would enter the double doors of Chicopee Comprehensive High School, late for class. He would arrive at the security checkpoint and walk through the metal detectors. After he was cleared to enter, he’d rush to the nearest exit.
The school day was over for him. His friends were waiting out front to start their own curriculum. “We would go to the park and smoke weed or drink, sometimes both. Then we’d go to an abandon[ed] house for a day party that someone was throwing and I’d get really messed up,” Gutierrez admitted. The third-year freshman had finally pushed the limit as far as he could and earned a new title of high school dropout.
A self-proclaimed “smart thug,” he knew how to push the boundaries just far enough to where he wouldn’t get arrested. The days to come were a haze of smoking, drinking and racing with friends — until the night of the party.
“When I found my brother I remember scanning his body for bullet holes. I started from his shoes and went up. When I got to his back between his shoulder blades I saw it. I knew that was it. He was done,” Gutierrez said.
At the hospital when the doctor said that five-word phrase, “We did everything we could,” his aunt rushed over to him crying and began punching the 19-year-old over and over. She yelled at him that it was his fault that his brother was dead.
“I know she was hurting, but she was right, and in that moment I knew it. My brother never partied. That was the second party he’d ever been to. He went because I took him there … because I was a bad influence,” Gutierrez said as tears began to fall down his right cheek.
He found a job working nights at a factory. He wasn’t himself anymore. He was just a hollow shell of the person he used to be.
Work, home, sleep.
Work, home, sleep.
Days would pass with no deviation, until he met her. Chris had given a co-worker a ride home and when she invited him inside, he accepted. Inside was his co-worker’s stepdaughter, Taniesha, who would be his girlfriend in a few months. She was the support he needed. Often she would wake up in the middle of the night and see him crying at the foot of the bed. She comforted him and served as his voice of reason.
Gutierrez was in a rut. He was stuck at his parent’s house with no hope for a better future. He let his grief control his life. Taniesha pulled Gutierrez out of the sadness he was drowning in and gave him the kick in the butt he needed. “I kind of just told him one day that you need to get your s— together and be a man. I’m trying to get my life together and better myself, so if you want to be with me you have to do the same,” Taniesha said.
Within months, Gutierrez had his GED and was enrolled in a vocational school. A year later he graduated with medical assistant training, but more importantly he could smile again.
Two years later, Gutierrez and his new fiancee drove a grueling 32 hours to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to visit Taniesha’s family. She tried to convince Gutierrez that they needed a change of scenery.
One day, Gutierrez was walking Taniesha’s grandma’s dog alone down a neighborhood street when he noticed a tinted truck slowing down beside him. His palms began to sweat. The driver rolled down the window and Gutierrez ducked and braced himself for what he thought would be a gunshot. The old man driving the truck smiled and waved at him and continued driving. Confused and a little shaken, the Massachusetts native realized Las Cruces could be home.
Now living in the Land of Enchantment in a three-bedroom house with his fiancee, cats and dogs of all sizes run around. Small, square engagement photos cover the walls and a single sign reads, “Home is wherever you are.”
Sporting a purple polo with MVH embroidered on it, Gutierrez waits to go to work at the psychiatric hospital where he’ll look after patients. His blue eyes sparkle as he thinks of how far he’s come. He plans to attend New Mexico State University this year and major in something to do with space. In the right corner of the living room, on a tan couch, lays his 9mm pistol.
Despite what happened to his brother and the shootings that are on the news day after day, Gutierrez wants to own guns and has respect for them. “I don’t think guns kill people because my gun has been sitting here on the couch for a couple days now and it has not shot me or my dogs,” Gutierrez said.
He doesn’t believe guns should be banned; however, he does support the idea of raising the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21. “I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m going to need a gun and not have it. I have already seen what happens when you don’t have one, so I’d rather go down fighting than go down running.”