BRIGHTON PARK — Fernando Mondragon was lucky, his family said.
His mother, Michelle Adent, carries a rare mutation of the NEMO gene, which causes deadly bacterial infections in boys. Most don’t see their second birthdays, and Adent had already lost two sons to the immune disease before Mondragon was born.
She feared the worst, but Mondragon tested negative for the gene mutation.
“The doctors were amazed that he didn’t have the disease,” Adent, 40, said. “My son, he’s the lucky one. It just ducked over him somehow. And then to have this happen…”
On Wednesday, Mondragon was shot to death outside a garage in the 4700 block of South Talman Avenue about 11 a.m., police said.
The 18-year-old had just bought “a junker” of a truck that he was especially proud of because “it was his,” his mother said. Mondragon was chatting with a mechanic about broken lights when someone in a van jumped out and shot the teen in his chest.
He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:46 a.m. Police said Mondragon had documented gang ties, and detectives believe the shooting was part of an ongoing gang conflict in the area.
Adent confirmed her son was in a gang. When asked why he joined, she shrugged. “It’s the neighborhood here.”
Several family members gathered in Mondragon’s home in the 4000 block of South Artesian Avenue Thursday afternoon.
They laughed about his picky eating habits — Waffle Crisp and Cocoa Pebbles often trumped real food — and cried when they thought about his 2-year-old son, Fernando Jr., growing up without a dad.
“People don’t realize what they do and how it affects everybody,” Adent said about the gunman. “I want to look into that boy’s face and ask him why he took my son from me.”
Relatives described Mondragon as a quiet, “bashful” kid who excelled at sports, especially basketball and soccer.
“He was a runner,” Adent said. “He was very thin so he was fast.”
School coaches tried to get Mondragon to run track and field, but “he didn’t see the concept of just running back and forth,” his mother said. The teen preferred team sports and often played soccer with his toddler son, who also tested negative for the NEMO mutation.
“He loved life, he loved being here,” Adent said. “And now he’s gone.”