A photo of Jesus Reyes, attached to a utility pole near the intersection of Truman and Hardesty. Photo by Bryan Stalder.

By Paul Thompson
Northeast News

The teenage victim of a recent Northeast homicide is being remembered as a talented skateboarder and artist – but also, in a complicating twist – as a notorious spray-paint tagger.

So often in life, easy narratives belie the shades of grey required to truly define an individual. It’s simpler to define ourselves in absolutes, but human beings contain multitudes; there isn’t a single descriptor capable of encapsulating any of us.

That holds true for Jesus G. Reyes, a 15-year-old Northeast resident who was found murdered at the intersection of Truman Rd. and Hardesty Ave. just after 10 p.m. on Monday, April 16.

By Thursday, April 19, two 16-year-old juveniles had been charged in connection to the homicide: one with First Degree Murder, First Degree Robbery and First Degree Assault; the other with Second Degree Murder, First Degree Robbery and First Degree Assault. Reyes was found alongside a second juvenile who sustained life-threatening injuries, though that individual was responsive as he was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Because the suspects are juveniles, their names have not been released and charging documents are not public. As a result, details regarding that fateful night remain murky. In the wake of tragedy, however, some details have emerged about who Reyes was, and what he might have become.

The homicide was shocking to many in the Historic Northeast, including Melody Meek, whose son Diego Jimenez was a close friend of Reyes.

“He was really a good kid. We’re all in shock that this happened to him,” Meek said. “He didn’t have no enemies; he just had big dreams, really.”

According to Meek, who spoke with Reyes as recently as three weeks ago, Reyes had hopes of saving up for a car and eventually buying a house for he and his mother to live in. Meek noted that Reyes was also a talented skateboarder who had dreams of eventually going pro.

“He should have already been pro, to be honest,” Meek said. “He was awesome; very awesome. For someone to only be 15, and to be able to have talent like that…”

Jesse Jimenez – no connection to Diego – developed a friendship with Reyes through the Kansas City skating scene. Jimenez, 29, produced skateboarding videos and marveled at Reyes’ preternatural talent. Where Jimenez might be struggling to master a trick, Reyes had a reputation as a quick learner.

“The thing that impressed me was how consistent he was with it,” Jimenez said. “He’d just come over and be knocking them out.”

Like Meek, Jimenez believed that Reyes had the talent to go pro, though he suggested that Reyes likely lacked the support needed to make it.

“You can only go so far in Kansas City in skateboarding if you don’t have the right people backing you,” Jimenez said. “It’s kind of hard, because we only have two skate shops.”

If Reyes wasn’t answering his phone, Meek said, he was most likely at Penn Valley Park honing his skating skills. When she saw Reyes most recently, he asked how Diego was doing. According to Meek, friends often referred to Reyes as Boots, due to his apparent likeness to the cartoon monkey from Dora the Explorer. In many ways, Reyes was a normal 15-year-old kid; full of dreams and talents and ambition.

His talent extended to art, though Reyes sometimes channeled that talent in negative ways: through his spray-painting moniker, Screw.

Northeast residents will recall the name instantaneously. For years, but especially during the spring and summer of 2016, Screw was prolific. He frequently tagged public and private property, causing thousands of dollars in damages in the process. In a July 2016 Northeast News feature, Parks and Recreation maintenance supervisor Louis Cummings said that the city had spent roughly $10,000 cleaning up Screw’s graffiti. That spring, Screw’s tags popped up on local businesses, bridges, stop signs, and even the empty Budd Park pool.

At the time, Cummings said that if he ever encountered Screw personally, he would try to appeal to his sense of community.

“I’d probably say that the area that you’re defacing is in a place where you live,” Cummings said. “You’re disrupting the everyday life of every other person who lives in the Northeast.”

A message, ‘RIP Screw,’ was left on a manhole cover near the site where police found Reyes deceased in a vehicle on Monday, April 16.

Jimenez also recalled reaching out to Reyes, hoping to compel him to stop tagging public property under the Screw moniker.

“We tried to get him to stop doing it,” Jimenez said. “Don’t just toss it up there; take your time. Make it look nice.”

Hector Casanova, a local artist and assistant professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, had his artistic endeavors impacted by Screw. In particular, Screw tagged the Scarritt Elementary mural installation, which is displayed on a series of art boards at the moth-balled school (located at Smart and Askew). Though Casanova was frustrated by the vandalism, he recognized that Screw possessed legitimate artistic talent.

When asked about Screw in a 2017 interview, Casanova pleaded with the tagger to utilize his talents for the greater good, noting that it feels much better to have your work celebrated, rather than resented.

“I understand having an impulse to make your mark on the world; that’s why I’m an artist,” Casanova said. “That’s why any of us are artists, because all of us have this impulse to have an impact and to shape this world that we live in. Ultimately, that’s what tagging is: it’s making a mark on the world. But what I’d like to urge the people that are doing this to do is to understand that there’s ways that you can make that mark and be celebrated for it.”

Unfortunately, Reyes’ effort to make a mark on the world was cut tragically short. The incident embodied Jimenez’s worst fears for the talented 15-year-old skateboarder he’d come to regard as a friend.

“We’d always give him little lectures,” Jimenez said. “I’ve lost so many friends already.”

For Jimenez, youth doesn’t excuse a crime with such tragic consequences. He’d like to see the assailants charged as adults.

“At 16, I knew what I was doing; I was working,” Jimenez said. “Just because you’re 16, doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Through her grief, Meek says that she refuses to hate whoever murdered her son’s friend.

“I don’t have hate for them,” Meek said. “But people should think more about consequences and how valuable life is.”

The decision of whether the charged juveniles will be tried as adults has yet to be made. For now, they are in custody and awaiting a detention hearing at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, April 20.

Those who cared about Reyes are left to manage the fallout.

“If I could see him, I would probably hug him really tight,” Meek said. “He was going to do big things.”

A vigil was held for Jesus Reyes on the southwest corner of the Truman Rd. and Hardesty Ave. intersection on the evening of Tuesday, April 17. Afterwards, a curbside memorial remained. Photo by Michael Bushnell.