Debbie Fabela’s son came back from the war changed. After four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Erving Lopez suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. One of the few people who could help him recover from an episode, his mother said, was Johnathan Aguilar, one of his best friends from childhood.
Aguilar was killed last Friday morning in a seemingly random stabbing attack at the South Austin burrito shop where he had worked for more than eight years. Lopez wasn’t able to attend a candlelit vigil that his friend’s family arranged Sunday night in Aguilar’s East Austin childhood home because the news was still too raw.
“When I found out I was in shock; my son had a breakdown,” Fabela said.
Aguilar, Lopez and David De Luna had been the closest of friends since they all met at Martin Middle School in the Holly neighborhood. They went on to attend Austin High School together before Lopez entered the military service.
“With Erving going overseas, we were getting very worried about him, and he would come back on leave, then go back, then come and go again. Then when he finally got out, he needed more help,” De Luna said.
De Luna has a slew of adjectives he uses to describe Aguilar, who was 34: trustworthy, genuine, hard working, selfless. He and Fabela recalled Sunday during the vigil how Aguilar and his wife Amy would drop everything in a heartbeat to apply the full quality of their character into care of Aguilar’s best friend.
“When my son came back from the war — from fighting one tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan — he was not the same. But they were there for him,” Fabela said. “When I needed them to help me with my son, they were there. All I had to do was pick up the phone and they were there.”
“Keeping him company and letting his mind relax by being with him,” De Luna said. “John was always there.”
On Friday morning, police say they received reports of a homeless man who was acting erratically and had assaulted someone at Bennu Coffee on South Congress Avenue. Police said that patrons at the coffee shop initially detained him but he was able to flee.
As officers were searching for him, they received a 911 call from an employee of Freebirds World Burrito, which is a few doors down from the coffee shop inside the same shopping center. Two Freebirds employees had been stabbed and when police arrived, one of them was pronounced dead. The other victim was stable but in serious condition Friday.
Police said the 27-year-old attacker made his way onto the roof of the Freebirds building after the stabbings and jumped. Witnesses on scene said they saw him jump head first. Police said his injuries from the fall were life threatening.
Police have not confirmed the identity of the person killed Friday and said they would not give the names of the suspect in the attacks or the victims until Monday.
De Luna remembers the confusion that came over him when he heard the news.
“I just didn’t understand. They told me to meet them at (Aguilar’s) father’s house. And sure enough, they told me he passed away,” he said. “I didn’t understand. They said he was stabbed at work, that’s he’s gone. It was very strong, hurtful.”
Aguilar leaves behind his wife and teenage son, Daniel. A Gofundme fundraiser has been set up for their benefit.
“She works, he worked. They were barely making ends meet,” Fabela said.
“I just want to make sure that my Amy and my Daniel get all the help they can get,” she added.
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