Feature photo of Chad Stuart courtesy of Luz Vasquez
BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media
VINELAND — It’s a phone call no mother should ever receive and no mother ever deserves to hear, yet it was the phone call Luz Vasquez received on Sept. 23.
Authorities told Vasquez to hurry to the hospital because her son, Chad Stuart had been shot due to senseless gun violence. Stuart died at Cooper Hospital in Camden the next day. The wound was so severe she could not even give him an open-casket funeral.
At the age of 31, Stuart’s death was as stunning as it was heartbreaking. A youth sports coach and college graduate whose life had started to come together with a measure of focus and goals for the future — snuffed out in a pointless argument at a bar parking lot where Stuart was unarmed.
Today, Vasquez, a prominent community leader, realtor and executive director of the local Hope Pregnancy Centers, continues her struggle with how her life has been changed forever.
Vasquez was at a women’s Christian retreat and had asked a group to pray for her son before she received a call from law enforcement.
“Your son has been shot,” the detective told Vasquez.
“I started to pack my things, and I asked somebody to take me to a car rental place, which I rented a car two-and-a-half hours away and drove myself to Cooper Hospital from the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Vasquez recently told Front Runner New Jersey.
“I prayed the entire time going to the hospital, and when I got there, the family was not allowed in until I got there. The doctors told us that his injury was irreversible and there’s nothing they could do for him. It still was like, ‘What are you saying?’ I didn’t understand what they were saying. It’s not that I couldn’t understand it. I just couldn’t believe it. ‘You have to be talking about someone else.'”
The sudden irreversible and finality of that moment still weighs on Vasquez and her entire family. How could that have happened? Why did anyone ever feel the need to do this?
“We have moments when the family gets together, and we talk about what can we do as a family to remember him, to not forget him? What is his contribution to us?” Vasquez said. “Definitely, staying healthy and eating right and taking care of ourselves is up there because that was important to him. He would get upset if he found out that any of us were sick because he’d say it’s because we’re not taking care of ourselves.
“I think it’s important that to make that as a family, we should evaluate and make lifestyle changes so that we are as healthy as possible, and to honor him because that was important to him because he wanted the best for us. He wanted us to last a long time, and not die prematurely because of health reasons that we absolutely have control over.”
Stuart earned an associate’s degree from Cumberland County College, which today is Rowan College of South Jersey. He started his bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University before transferring and graduating from Wilmington University. He dreamed of opening his own restaurant one day.
“He loved the restaurant business and was just trying to find his way,” Vasquez said. “I think he would have opened up a restaurant for himself. We both love to cook. I used to be a caterer, and he watched me in the kitchen a lot with parties and stuff.
“I think he gained a love of food and cooking and fine dining. He loved fine dining and that was his thing. He would pick out probably the best restaurant with the best reviews, and he wanted to find out how good they were, and that was what he did with friends.”
In that, Vasquez said her son was just starting to spread his wings and truly embrace life. He loved working out in the gym because he was overweight as a teenager.
“I think he lost his weight at about 14, 15 years old, and health and fitness became a serious focus for him then,” Vasquez said. “It was eating right, and that was on his list of priorities, and that never changed. Meal planning, Monday through Friday he ate a certain way, working out, and if he caught us eating fast food, then we had to pay for that.
“He would not be happy with us ordering fast food. He was just a typical young man that was so loved as the first grandkid, as my first, and his father’s first. He was adored. He was not married either, so we were looking forward to one day where he would get married and have kids, and none of that is going to happen now.”
Vasquez said her son loved the game of basketball. He coached youth basketball and the league he was involved with created the Chad Stuart Award, which will go to the most improved players in their local league.
“He was honored one night for his dedication to the team, his contributions to them personally, his generosity towards them,” Vasquez said. “So, I think anything associated with basketball, it automatically triggers me thinking about him because I felt like he was in the gym room with us while they were playing, because I remember him running up and down, either yelling at his players or playing himself.
“That night [he was honored] it almost felt like that I was waiting for him to get out on the court, and he loved football. Between football and basketball, he knew the stats, he knew the most recent players, he knew the controversies of players. He loved the game of basketball. That’s for sure. To me, its an automatic trigger, and it makes me think of him, anything associated with a basketball.”
Vasquez said, though, as she tried to come to grips with his loss, she felt the pain come rushing back at a Gloucester County court hearing for the man accused of shooting him, Walter J. Gilliano, 25, of Franklinville.
Gilliano, who has been charged with murder in the shooting, remained in jail as of Oct. 7 while prosecutors appealed a judge’s recent decision approving a pre-trial release. Gilliano’s attorneys argued, according to NJ.com, the shooting was accidental despite the fact that Gilliano had left the establishment and returned with the weapon involved in the shooting.
Vasquez said in the hearing, her son was never mentioned: “as though he didn’t even exist.” She said she felt “victimized all over again.”
“It shocked everybody,” Vasquez said about the initial pre-trial release. “It shocked the prosecutor’s office. It shocked reporters. We’re just sitting there like, ‘What the heck just happened?’ Yes, he shot my son point blank in the middle of the forehead, and this is the report.
“He blew my son’s head off. He’s not even viewable. I can’t even have an open casket, and yet you have a judge that was very sympathetic towards this young man. She didn’t even grant house arrest. It had to be appealed immediately.”
Vasquez said while the legal situation begins to play its way through the system, she wants to make sure that her son is never forgotten like that day in court.
“He just had a whole life ahead of him, and unfortunately now, it was cut short,” Vasquez said. “He is my son. He’s a brother. He’s a grandson. He’s a nephew. We have a huge family, and he mattered to everyone, to all of us. This action of the shooter has altered the lives of not just my son, but extended family on both sides.”
Lives have been changed, but the mother of Chad Stuart said no one will ever make her forget the love and memories he gave her and her family.
Stuart is survived by his mother Luz Vasquez; brothers, Devin Deleon and Ruben Stuart III; sisters, Destiny Padilla, Mikaela, and Lanie Guzman; stepfather Neftali Guzman Jr.; grandmothers Ines Bermudez and Emma Vazquez; aunts, Ruthy Vazquez, Yolanda Vazquez, Sally Stuart, Vicky Cruz and Zulma Lyman; uncles Eliezer Vazquez and his wife Melissa, Jerry Vazquez and his wife Melissa, Joshua Stuart, Derrick Ferrer and his wife Dolly, and Chris Ferrer; and godmother, Wanda Cesareo.
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