Bullied special needs student buried as family still asks for answers in his death

Brooklyn
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BROOKLYN — A Brooklyn teen, whose unexplained death at a Williamsburg playground has led to questions from his grieving family, was laid to rest Friday.

Ivan Cruz, 14, was buried in Brooklyn, as questions persisted about the minutes leading up to his June 24 death in the playground of Public School 16 in Williamsburg.

“We still don’t know exactly what took place,” Ivan’s father, Angel Cruz, said outside Ortiz Funeral Home in Williamsburg.

The boy’s grandmother and sister said they were initially told last week by a deputy medical examiner in Brooklyn that Ivan’s neck “got snapped.”

“When I spoke to the medical examiner, she told me his neck was broken,” Ivan’s sister, Alizabeth Cruz, 19, told PIX11. “That’s what she told me last week.”

But the same pathologist changed her assessment Thursday, just hours after PIX11 had called the Office of Chief Medical Examiner and received a statement that “the cause/manner of death are pending at this time.”

Ivan’s grandmother, Luisa Rivera, said she’s heard three different versions of what happened to the boy last week, including a story from one woman who said Ivan was chased from a bus stop into the park on Taylor Street, off Bedford Avenue.

She said she was told one of the kids pushed him.

Another story the family heard was that Ivan was playing tag and fell by the slide.

A 911 caller said the boy had jumped off the park’s monkey bars.

A man who said he administered CPR to Ivan told PIX11 he saw 15 boys surrounding the skinny teen on the ground, and then they vanished.

Ivan had a history of being bullied at Middle School 126 in Greenpoint, before classes were shut down by the pandemic.

“This thing started in the school and ended in the park,” his grieving grandmother insisted to PIX11 News, shortly before viewing started at the funeral home.

Ivan’s grandmother was raising the boy and seven of his siblings in her apartment.

The family sent PIX11 two cellphone videos that showed Ivan being targeted by bullies near his Greenpoint school.

The first video, from October 2019, showed Ivan surrounded by boys and knocked to the ground, only to have one of the boys punch him repeatedly when he tried to get up. A group of laughing kids are seen watching the beat down, with some recording the scene on their cellphones.

The second video, from March of this year, showed two girls taunting and smacking Ivan as he stood with his back to a fence and tried to defuse the situation.

A former school employee who said she briefly worked with Ivan in his special education class reached out to PIX11 after hearing about his death.

“The boys in his class would constantly tease him and bully him,” she said.

“They would tell him he was ugly straight to his face out loud in front of the entire class. They would make fun of his clothes and sneakers. He would respond by saying his dad was a cop and they would tell him they would slap his cop father and him.”

Ivan’s father is not a cop.

“Sometimes, the teachers would try to intervene,” the former employee said, “but they had no respect for the teachers.”

“He was a sweet boy who wanted to fit in but an easy target for bullies.”

Once the pandemic shut down schools, Ivan had a haven from the bullies at home.

But he ventured out again on June 24.

“I think the way the story has been changing is just a little bit disturbing,” Ivan’s uncle, Jerry Cruz, told PIX11. “I did hear reports that he was chased.”

The case was investigated by the NYPD’s 90th Precinct, and the family said it was told surveillance cameras offered no assistance.

“The school camera wasn’t facing the park,” Alizabeth Cruz said, “and the cameras from across the street, it was too far.”

Luisa Rivera said the office of U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez was planning on looking at the case.

“I don’t look for no lawyer,” Rivera said. “I’m looking for nothing, no money. I was looking for the truth.”

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