Human Target

Page 3 of 4

One of those friends, Andrew Kornuta, tells me about the effect meeting Burgueno had on him. "I came out here from California for a year of high school, met Abdiel and wanted to stay." So he did. His younger sister, Sarah, still lives in California. Burgueno visited her there shortly before his death. She shows me some photo-booth pictures of the two of them. They're clowning, pulling faces. I read a letter he sent to her. In it, he talks about how he loves the rain, how he's looking forward to Christmas, how great he thinks The Little Prince is. He talks about problems that mutual friends are having, and tells her about an impending gig at Stinkweeds.

Chris Collins was Burgueno's roommate. Now he can't stand to be in the apartment and is living with his mother. Collins is an amiable 20-year-old, a hybrid of punk and preppie who works as a computer consultant. I ask him how he and Abdiel spent their time, and he answers, "We were at coffee shops almost every night, getting all philosophical and stuff."

What does he think happened?
He sees two possible scenarios that, at least, explain factors that go unexplained in the police version. One is that someone realized Collins was out of town and came into the apartment looking to steal his expensive computers, not knowing that Burgueno was still around, and that Burgueno panicked and ran to get help. There might have been a struggle, which would explain the apartment being wrecked. This scenario would also explain the mismatched shoes and the machete, which he may have grabbed to protect himself. "He could have been running to the cop for help," says Collins. "He couldn't see shit without his glasses or contacts."

Collins' other theory is even more ironic. "There'd been vandalism in the neighborhood before," says Collins. "I've got a school bus, and somebody vandalized it and some cars. So, when we heard noises, Abdiel and I would go down to investigate. He may have gone to check out whatever noise it was that got the cops called. He might have taken the machete. He liked to play samurai, and he was kind of naive about the way the world works. But, man, that machete couldn't have cut through cardboard."

We're sitting in Andrew Kornuta's house. "I'll tell you what I want to ask Popp," says Kornuta. "I want to ask him if he shot him because he felt threatened, or because he knew he was technically allowed to."

Collins points to a computer monitor. "That's the same size as the one that got tossed around my apartment," he says. "Abdiel was 110 pounds. See if you can lift it."

I try. I weigh 145 pounds, and I'm strong. The monitor is heavy and awkward, and I can hardly get it off the ground.

In the afternoon, I prowl Abdiel Burgueno's apartment. The air conditioning is fierce.

A lot of the contents are gone, taken by the cops. There are rubber gloves strewn around, from the search they made. Ashtrays full of cigarette butts. A clock on the wall, with all the numbers painted out except for eight and three, and the hour hand painted white. Burgueno did that in high school.

In his room, I find an issue of this newspaper.
In the living room, I find the resume he'd typed. Under the heading "OBJECTIVE," it says, "To write articles, columns and short stories, and eventually becoming a full-time freelance journalist." Under "PERSONAL INTERESTS," it says, "Music, Literature, Photography and Movies."

I sit at the memorial service, and look at the body. I talk to people about Abdiel Burgueno. There's no questioning that he was an extraordinary person. Everyone talks not only about how they loved him, but how he influenced them. A young woman tells me she wants to be a writer, but doesn't know how she'll do it now without Abdiel's encouragement.

An older woman tells me she'd be more willing to believe that her own son would do what the cops allege Burgueno did than to believe it of Burgueno. "It's just not possible," she says.

As to what did happen, we're probably never going to know. The cops probably don't know, and there's no reason they'd tell us if they did. The only one who really knows is gone, destroyed. The answer may be buried with him tomorrow morning. But we do hear a last word from him at his memorial, when his sister Naomi stands up and reads a poem that was found in one of his typewriters.

how do you expect me to feel, I've a lump in my throat
From the words I can't speak, I mustn't exorcise from deep inside
I say, "We are living on the cusp of the now"
And recede to the quiet solace of my room
Words are just words, memories tainted with glory
Can you mar feelings, though they ruthlessly lurk below
how do you expect me to feel, I can't do it on my own

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Barry Graham