After the two-month criptearch for a California prep baseball player gone missing ended in tragedy last month, the 16-year-old’s teammates honored him in their first home game of the spring season with an armband and his name, “Ivan Nunez,” stitched on their sleeves.
The Santa Maria (Calif.) sophomore catcher went missing while celebrating his birthday at a party on Dec. 26, and after almost two months of search parties and candlelight vigils, his body was found on Feb. 17 “hanging from an abandoned structure” on a rural property in nearby Nipomo, Calif., according to the Lompoc Record. His death was ruled a suicide.
While friends told the local paper Nunez was enjoying his birthday party, family believed him to be abducted and many skeptics doubted the coroner’s determination, the local sheriff’s department recently ruled out foul play in the boy’s death, according to reports.
Still, family members remain steadfast his death was not a suicide. They say he went inside to clean cake off his face, heard a knock on the door and vanished, reports said. “I know my son didn’t do it, and I hope whoever was involved gets punished,” his mother, Gaby Ordonez, told the Lompoc Record, describing community support as a saving grace in despair.
The latest reflection of the Santa Maria community’s devotion to Nunez came during his team’s first home game after a 1-5 start on the road. The game also marked the first since police officially identified the boy’s body by DNA after discovering it unrecognizable last month. His teammates rallied from a two-run deficit to defeat Lompoc (Calif.), 6-4.
“Honestly, all of us were not in a good mood,” Saints sophomore leadoff hitter Isiah Garcia told the Santa Maria Times. “We were crying a lot. Right there I felt we became closer. We all had each other’s backs. Our bond is unbelievable now — never had this bond before. We came out here with a bang because we had Ivan by our side. We prayed for him and he was watching over us. He got the ‘W’ for us.”
“It brought us all closer as a team. We played as one unit today. All the other games — people were striking out, throwing their helmets, getting mad. Today all I’ve seen are smiles and happiness because we’re just so glad we found our brother and he can rest in peace now. We can go play baseball and he’s by our side.”