On May 17, Josue Flores stayed late at Marshall Middle School in central Houston. The studious sixth-grader wasn’t the type to skip a science club meeting.
“He wanted to be a doctor,” his sister, Sofia Flores, told the Associated Press. “He wanted to help people.”
He would never have the chance.
As he walked home that sunny afternoon, the skinny 11-year-old was suddenly attacked by a man wielding a knife.
Neighbors responding to screams saw the man and boy struggling near the sidewalk. Josue collapsed on the grass, bleeding from multiple wounds, as the man fled on foot. As one neighbor rushed to the boy’s side, another chased the attacker in his car, only for the man to disappear near some railroad tracks.
Paramedics rushed Josue to a nearby hospital but it was too late.
The child’s slaying has sent waves of shock, horror, sadness and anger through the community.
More than anything, perhaps, it has left confusion: Who would do such a thing?
The Flores family says Josue’s green backpack contained nothing more than textbooks. Nothing worth stealing. Not even a cellphone.
The family’s pain has been compounded by a false start in the murder investigation. The day after the killing, Houston Police issued a wanted poster for a man with a lengthy criminal history. The next day, they announced his arrest. The day after that, however, they suddenly dropped the charges, releasing the man and apologizing for their mistake.
Now police say they are once again searching for the suspect, described as a black male, 25 to 30 years old, about 6 feet tall and weighing 180 to 200 pounds. They are offering $15,000 reward for tips leading to his capture.
“There is a monster who is out among us,” Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Monday night, according to KHOU. “You may know who he is. He may be your son, brother or friend. You may have seen something or someone may have said something to you. Your conscience needs to be your guide.”
The community, meanwhile, is struggling to understand the ghastly mystery, which, for 48 hours, appeared solved.
“It’s like a wound that’s still left open,” the Rev. Anil Thomas of Holy Name Catholic Church told the AP. “And we pray that will close quickly for the family.
He was such a sweet boy’
Josue Flores was a slender boy with big dreams.
“He was such a sweet boy,” his mother, Maria Flores, told the Houston Chronicle. “I can’t understand why someone would do this. He did not deserve this.
At Marshall Middle School, where Josue was frequently on the honor roll, classmates and administrators recalled Josue as intelligent and kind.
“He was such a loving, smart boy,” classmate Benisa Garcia told the AP.
“He was a good student, never got in trouble, always on time to classes,” Principal Michael Harrison told the Chronicle. “[He was] kind of one of those kids in the background – just did what he was told to do, kept to himself, a joy to have on campus.”
Harrison said counselors were helping students with their grief.
“It is a very difficult time right now but we are holding on, we are making it,” he said.
Josue was one of seven children, his 24-year-old sister Guadalupe Flores, told the newspaper. He loved science, enjoyed playing with his toy dinosaurs or soccer ball, and always asked permission before playing outside. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of an older brother who recently graduated from Univ. of Texas at Austin and is studying to be an oncologist.
Instead, the 11-year-old’s last steps were along the sidewalk several blocks from his house.
After attending a science club party after school, where students were recognized for the accomplishments, Josue headed home. It was only seven blocks away, but he never made it.
Security camera footage shows the sixth-grader strolling along the sidewalk minutes before the attack. Dressed in slacks and a white shirt with a jacket tied around his waist and his green bag on his back, Josue turns his head to look behind him, but does not appear panicked. No one else appears in the short clip, which is roughly seven seconds long.
Camera captures final moments of Josue Flores’ life
Two blocks later he was attacked.
There were no security cameras rolling when the man walked up to Josue and began stabbing him, unprovoked, according to police.
Patricia Cerna heard the child’s screams. She responded in time to see the attacker as he ran away, but not his face. She then tried to help Josue as he lay dying. Another neighbor jumped into his truck and chased after the man, but lost him after the assailant crossed over some railroad tracks.
“Look at what happened to this little angel, this little boy,” Cerna told the AP through tears.
Cops arrest a suspect, then let him go
News of the senseless killing spread quickly around Houston. Television news stations broadcast images of Josue’s green backpack, left behind in the grass by the paramedics who rushed the boy to the hospital, to no avail. A bulletin went out for a young, black man. Police, politicians and the Flores family all pleaded for help in finding the killer.
Less than 24 hours later, Houston Police issued a wanted poster for their prime suspect: a 31-year-old with a long criminal record named Che Lajuan Calhoun. They went so far as to charge him with the crime. Three witnesses said they saw Calhoun fleeing the scene of the stabbing, according to court documents reviewed by the AP.
The next day, police announced that they had Calhoun in custody.
The case appeared to be closed.
In fact, it was not. The day after Calhoun’s arrest, authorities made a full reversal, announcing that they had made a mistake and that the charges against Calhoun had been dropped.
Calhoun had a convincing alibi. He was 20 miles away in Pearland at the time of Josue’s killing, police said.
“The murderer is still on the loose at this point,” homicide Lt. Robert Blain told reporters.
For the Flores family, it was a sickening twist to Josue’s already unfathomable killing.
For Calhoun, it was a near-death experience of his own.
“I swear I hope the man gets hung, whoever did this,” he told KHOU. “I’m just as mad as you are or even madder because it almost was me hung.”
Calhoun said he learned of the warrant for his arrest when checking on another ongoing criminal case of his.
“I want to know how did this happen so quickly,” he said of the murder charge filed against him. “It was a rush job.”
At his brother’s urging, he turned himself in, but was startled at how the officers treated him as if he had already been convicted.
“The officers, I’m getting all their dirty looks,” he told the television station. “And then they’re announcing. They’re not saying it’s Che Calhoun. They’re saying it’s Che Calhoun the 11 year old killer. That’s the guy.”
Despite his release, he still feels hounded.
“I’m plastered all across Houston,” he said of the news of his arrest. “This is global right now.”
Police and local politicians are now hoping that that global attention pays off.
“An innocent person was arrested but once that information became clear, then he was let go,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, according to the AP. “So we apologize for putting him through that.”
What will help a community and the city to heal is to find the perpetrator of this particular crime,” he added.
In the meantime, supporters have rallied around the Flores family.
About 500 mourners filled a local church to capacity on Tuesday night, including many of Josue’s classmates. A high school mariachi band played music as friends, family members and strangers touched by the tragedy approached the open casket to pay respects to the boy who wanted to be a doctor but never got the chance.
Juan Flores Sr. stopped in front of the silver casket. He gazed down at his son, dressed in white like the day he died.
Then he took off his glasses, leaned down and kissed his boy goodbye.