Family of teen killed in Suwanee had sought refuge from violence in Venezuela

Abel Castellanos, 17, was shot to death in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Suwanee on July 19.

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Abel Castellanos, 17, was shot to death in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Suwanee on July 19.

Abel Castellanos’ family settled in Suwanee after immigrating from Venezuela in 2017 while seeking refuge from the violent political turmoil plaguing the Latin American country.

But last week, the family came face-to-face with a different type of violence when the 17-year-old was shot to death at an apartment complex.

Suwanee police found Castellanos on July 19 lying dead in the parking lot outside the leasing office of The Residences on McGinnis Ferry. He had a single gunshot wound to the chest, the department said at the time. Officers tried to revive the teen but were unsuccessful.

When the family’s pastor, Rafael Viana, heard the news, he prayed that God might guard Castellanos’ life and for it to be a misunderstanding — that it wasn’t true and maybe everything would be OK.

“But no, everything wasn’t OK,” Viana said in Spanish. “From the start, I made myself strong (for the family). I accompanied them when they went to first see his body. I was with them every step of the way.”

ExploreGuns found near teen shot to death at Suwanee apartment complex

Viana had to break the news to Castellanos’ mother, he said, something that, as a pastor, he does not always do.

“I preach good news, about a God who loves us and who gave His life for us. I like to share good news. It’s always painful when, one way or another in completing the mission God has trusted me with, I have to impart bad news,” he said. “I was destroyed. It was terrible.”

The last time Viana saw Castellanos was about a month ago, he said. The teen was doing well and had been working to help support his mother, grandmother and two siblings.

“He was very responsible,” Viana said. “He had a girlfriend and wanted to buy a car ... he was a boy with dreams.”

At his funeral, family and friends stood and one after another — sometimes through unstoppable tears — shared fond memories of Castellanos.

“Every time I saw Abel, I got so happy because his smile was so beautiful — he was so young,” one of his friends said in Spanish, her voice cracking.

As for the family, Viana said they are left with only questions. Police have not named any suspects or provided further details about the killing.

“It’s a pain like no other,” he said. “It’s a pain that’s inconsolable ... it’s a feeling of anguish to seek justice — to have answers. But we don’t have the answers. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know who did this.”

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Abel Castellanos, 17, and his family moved to Georgia in 2017 seeking refuge from violence in their native country Venezuela.

Credit: Provided/On the Way Church

Abel Castellanos, 17, and his family moved to Georgia in 2017 seeking refuge from violence in their native country Venezuela.

Credit: Provided/On the Way Church

Combined ShapeCaption
Abel Castellanos, 17, and his family moved to Georgia in 2017 seeking refuge from violence in their native country Venezuela.

Credit: Provided/On the Way Church

Credit: Provided/On the Way Church