Jaime J. Ortiz-Z, 15, who spent almost every weekend before Juan’s diagnosis playing  favorite PlayStation games like WWE® SmackDown® vs. Raw® 2010, or joking around with Juan and their friend Julio, said that Juan taught him to stand up for himself as a middle school student at St. Anthony School. “I used to get bullied by some of my friends, but he was always there for me, like he’d stand up for me,” Ortiz-Z said as he held back tears in a March 16 interview with your Catholic Herald.

“Juan met every
turn and bump in his
journey of life with
strength, poise and grace.”

– Obituary posted
on Messmer High School’s website

He clearly remembered his feelings of disbelief upon hearing the news that Juan had cancer and how he called a friend to find out if it was true.  Ortiz-Z said he couldn’t believe how Juan, whom Ortiz-Z considers “the strongest guy” he’s ever seen could have been sick. “I don’t know what to say anymore,” he said. “I’m going to lose a friend.” In the video shown earlier that day, Ortiz-Z shared a message of thanks for Juan. “…I told him, ‘Thank you for being the best friend I ever had.’”

Lillian Rodezno, 17, who also met Juan at St. Anthony, told “the cricket” to stay strong, that the students had faith and that miracles can happen. Rodezno said that Juan’s strength when she saw him earlier in the semester was helping her to find strength. “We were all crying for him and he wasn’t crying and I was like, I think if I was in his position, I would be devastated, like I think I would be in depression or something, but he wasn’t – he was smiling,” Rodezno said in an interview March 16 with your Catholic Herald. “He was being the Juan we know, regardless of the condition he’s in and I think that’s helping me stay strong….I’ve got to stay strong for him whether things get worse or it’s for the better.”

Rodezno, who lost her stepfather about four months earlier, said death is hard to accept, but it’s a difficult reality.

“It’s hard to believe that a close friend of ours is going through that and it’s hard to accept that at some point he’s going to be gone,” Rodezno said as she wiped away tears.

It’s something that has made Jessica Ornelas, 17, another of Juan’s friends, grow up a little faster. “I think for me, I have grown up a lot,” she said in an interview with your Catholic Herald after the prayer service. “I used to take life as a joke, and now it’s like I’m more serious. I’m more mature about it.”

Every time Ornelas hears Juan’s name, she thinks of his smiling face. “I just remember him always smiling,” she said, something that was repeated by many of the students who were interviewed in the video.

“He was sent here for a reason and he has opened our eyes and made us grow,” she said.

Rosaelena Fletes, 16, a close friend of Juan’s who met him as a student at St. Anthony School, also shared a message in the video. “I guess that my main message was remembering his smile and how he came to brighten our days, so sort of as an inspiration to us and that we need him….” Fletes said in an interview that day with your Catholic Herald. “Whatever happens, he will always be with us and that’s something that’s never going to change.”

Fletes said that Juan taught her how to look at things in life with a more positive attitude after she watched him come to school with a smile before and after his diagnosis. “I guess he was sent for us to like reflect on ourselves and to grow and whatever happens, he’s going to be our little angel,” Fletes said as her eyes welled with tears. “He was sent here for us and that’s something that we’re never going to be able to thank him enough for.”

Visitation was held April 19 at Max A. Sass & Sons, Milwaukee, and April 20 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Milwaukee, followed by a Mass in Spanish.

Juan, who was born Dec. 23, 1993, in Veracruz, Mexico, is survived by his mother, father, Raul Uscanga, and leaves behind his Grandma Reyna Conde, aunts Francisca and Norma Torres-Conde, and uncles, Eribel, Joel, Vincente Torres-Conde, all of Veracruz, Mexico and Milwaukee, according to the obituary.