For the past 15 years, Vicki Mercado worried that people would forget her son, Justin.

     For the past 15 years, Vicki Mercado worried that people would forget her son, Justin.
     Justin Mercado was 18 years old when he was gunned down in the Boot Hill Museum parking lot on Oct. 5, 1996. He died in surgery the next day.
     Justin did not belong to a gang, but the shooter, 14-year-old Rafael Flores, was a gang member.
     Vicki said over the years, she thought that people's memories of Justin would fade.
     So she and her husband, Johnny, were pleased when officials at The Alley teen center said they were planning a walk to honor Justin's memory.
     "We're excited about it," she said Wednesday. "I believe that most parents who have lost a child have at least a deep-down fear of the child's being forgotten. I know that stays with me, and that's one of those things that I think about from time to time. So I'm excited that they're doing it for Justin."
     The first-ever Justin Mercado Memorial Walk is set for Oct. 8 at The Alley, 2200 First Ave. Check-in will begin at 12:30 p.m., and the walk will begin at 1.
     Participants will walk to the Boot Hill parking lot, where a ceremony will take place next to a tree planted in Justin's memory. Following the ceremony, people will return to The Alley for a reception from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Honoring his memory
     The tragedy of Justin's death shocked the community and prompted the creation of two new organizations: Project Teen-Safe and Stop the Violence. Project Teen-Safe was formed to establish a safe place for area teenagers, and Stop the Violence was dedicated to reducing gang violence through education.
     Stop the Violence is no longer active, but The Alley still offers a safe haven for teens.
     Alley director Melissa Province said she hopes the upcoming walk will remind people of the teen center's purpose.
     "From The Alley's point of view, I think the main message is that we're here, this is why we're here," she said. "It should not take another tragedy in Dodge City before parents and kids realize that The Alley is a safe place to go."
     As for Vicki, she said she hopes the walk will help people remember Justin.
     "I would want them to think of his life and not his death and remember that he was happy and excited about his life," she said. "He had just graduated from high school, and he was excited about beginning his adult life."
     Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or email him at