William Quintero Martinez was born on Dec. 2, 1993, to Eduardo Quintero and Floralba Martinez Romero in Tocancipá, outside the Colombian capital of Bogotá. “We lived in pretty little cottage in the mountains, with a nice view,” says Floralba, who stayed home with the kids (William’s big sister, Esperanza, was three years older) while Eduardo ran an importing business. “We had a chauffeur and a cleaning lady; the chauffeur would drive us into the capital, and Eduardo to his office.”
When William was still a baby, his father died suddenly. Later, Floralba told her son that he’d been killed in a car accident, but that wasn’t the case. “I didn’t want to upset him,” she says, “but his father was assassinated by the chauffeur,” who planned to steal the family’s car. The chauffeur, a teenager at the time, spent two years in prison. Floralba was devastated. “I couldn’t live in the house where William’s father died, so I stayed with my sister in the capital,” she says, and eventually rented an apartment there. She got a job as a hairdresser, and as an office receptionist. “I felt like I was finally starting over, because I had my two children with me, and a job.” But when William was a toddler, tragedy struck again: while on vacation with another family member, his sister Esperanza drowned in a pool. Floralba sank into a deep depression and “couldn’t eat or sleep,” she says. “I thought a lot about William’s future, and knew I had to get better for him. He was my life.” After Esperanza’s death, a psychologist visited with William—a loving, social child—and told Floralba, “He’ll be okay.”
When William was still young, Floralba paid two visits to Montreal, where she knew other Colombians who’d emigrated. “I decided that I had to leave Colombia because there were too many memories,” she says. “I started thinking I’d like to go to Montreal so that William could grow up there, where it’s safe, and we could start over.” When her son was five years old, they boarded a plane for Canada—this time, to set up a new home. “It wasn’t hard for him at all,” she says. “In the plane, I told him, ‘We’re going to a country where there’s snow, like in the movies.’ He was very excited.”
When they arrived in Montreal, Floralba rented an apartment just down the street from where William would be attending school. Speaking no French at all, she enrolled in language classes, and met Arben Dushica, who’d emigrated to Canada himself just four months before from Kosovo. The two struck up a relationship, and are still together today. “I wasn’t looking for a husband at the time,” she says. “I told him, my son always comes first.”
William quickly picked up French, and later learned English, too, “by playing video games and watching movies,” says Vivian Saavedra, now 16, who was his girlfriend this past year. He flourished in Montreal, making friends wherever he went. “We’d play Star Wars and Harry Potter, or watch movies together,” says Simon Godin, 16, one of William’s best friends. William loved to skateboard, and he’d often hang out in Chinatown, drinking bubble tea at a local shop. He’d try to steer his friends away from drinking and drugs, knowing the trouble it could cause.
Floralba and Arben would argue sometimes, facing financial stresses or other problems, and even, says Floralba, considered separating. But William would defend Arben, saying “he’s a good person,” Floralba says, and urged them to work it out. William was “very social,” Simon says, and gentle and kind. Vivian remembers going to see some bands play at Montreal’s Club Soda with him, where he shielded her from the jostling crowd.
William’s “passion,” says Vivian, was music. At 14, he announced that he wanted to be a professional musician one day. “I wanted him to be a teacher, or have another career,” she says. But when she saw how much he loved it, Floralba—who was working as a hairdresser and aesthetician—set her worries aside and did her best to support him, scraping together extra money to pay for music lessons and buying him a used guitar. William started a band with his friends, which he named Dead Elegance. This spring, after finishing school, he was hoping to record music in the summer with his band.
On the morning of April 19, William was on his way to school, carrying a skateboard he planned to return to a friend. A Montreal city bus—the same one he took each day—turned the corner and struck him, killing him instantly. William was 17.