Bartlett Express Editor
The comments on Grace Celebration Lutheran Church’s Facebook page are a vivid reminder of how much Aaron Vasquez meant to the Cordova church’s members.
“His love for life was contagious! His spirit will live on through his friends … who will miss him so much!” wrote Susan Holliday.
“So tragic!! Went to SBA with my son. Don’t understand why this happened. Hope they catch the suspect and he is brought to justice!!” wrote Lisa Cox.
Vasquez, 19, was stabbed to death about 3:45 a.m. Saturday when he took out the trash behind El Toro Loco Bar and Grill in Memphis. Police said Vasquez made his way back into the restaurant, where he died on the floor while his attacker stole his green 1998 Toyota RAV4. The killer has not been found yet.
Police said the stabbing occurred only hours after another man’s throat was slashed behind the nearby New China Restaurant while he was taking out the garbage. The restaurants are located in the same shopping center on Kirby Parkway. Vasquez, who graduated in 2011 from St. Benedict at Auburndale in Cordova and whose mother, Desiree Vasquez, teaches at St. Ann Catholic School in Bartlett, left behind stunned family and friends. Vasquez had played in a band at Grace Celebration during the church’s youth services.
“We learned that Pastor Steve spent about two hours with about 25 of Aaron’s friends today at the Turners’ house praying with them,” commented the church’s Facebook moderator the day Vasquez was killed. “They are broken-hearted. May they not lean on their own understanding but on the Lord during this time. We are sending many prayers up for Aaron’s family and his friends. He obviously made an impact on everyone he met.”
Grace Celebration Pastor Steve Schneider said Vasquez wasn’t a member of the church, but had become good friends with some of the members, especially Tony Turner’s family. Schneider said Vasquez, who was lead guitar in a band called Taller Than Giants, often played during youth services and was well known to the teens at the church.
“He was a very positive person, and the smile on his face was infectious,” said Schneider. “He was a team player and he helped us out. His death is a tragic loss.”
Friends of Vasquez, who was a sophomore at the University of Memphis, remembered him the same way. Dean Van Frank, who plays bass in Taller Than Giants, said he knew Vasquez since he was 11 years old. Van Frank, 18, is a senior at St. Benedict at Auburndale.
“Aaron was a caring person who was very accepting of other people,” said Van Frank. “He was the nicest person I’ve ever met. Although it’s difficult, we’re going to keep the band going because that’s what he would have wanted.”
Sam Leathers, 18, also a senior at the school, said he met Vasquez about five years ago through Midway, the band in which he plays drums. Leathers said Midway and Taller Than Giants frequently played at the same venues.
“Aaron was always goofy and made you smile,” said Leathers. He was really friendly and he just made people feel welcome. He was awesome with the guitar. This is just terrible.”
Sharon Masterson, director of communications at St. Benedict, said the entire school feels the loss of Vasquez. Masterson said Vasquez was heavily involved in the school’s music program as a student and loved jazz. He also returned frequently for concerts after he graduated.
“He was very outgoing and friendly, and he was an all-around good kid,” said Masterson. “He always had a smile, and he was endearing and a genuine kid. Aaron loved his faith and used his talent as part of it.”
SBA band director Tom Link said Vasquez came into the school’s music program as a freshman and stayed until graduation. Link said Vasquez was a member of the jazz band for two years, and started Taller Than Giants during his time at the school. Link said he was and still is a big part of the music scene there.
“He loved to play music and he was very good at it,” said Link. “It was absolutely his passion. He loved making music for himself and others. What’s happened to him is shocking. It’s tragic and senseless, and it’s very scary when you see something like this.”
Vasquez is survived by his parents, Baloy and Desiree Vasquez, and his sister, Annelise, a current SBA senior.
Memorial gifts may be made to the N. Vasquez Memorial Fund (acct.# 5594478546) at any Wells Fargo Bank.