Nothing is guaranteed for Jake Montalvo.
Not the poems he writes, of which he pours his heart and soul into. Not his love of The Smashing Pumpkins, Jimi Hendrix or playing the guitar.
Not the fact that he’ll get to see his half-brother and two little sisters, Melina and Tammy, again tomorrow.
A victim of a mall shooting as a young child in his native Puerto Rico in 1996, not even his life, nor his mother’s or grandmother’s, was guaranteed.
“I remember specifically hiding beneath a table,” Montalvo said. “Seeing people running and the guy that I saw that scared me. I assume it was him. The guy in the jean jacket.”
Taking place at the largest, busiest and most expensive mall in the country, Montalvo recalls the entire incident lasting less than a half an hour.
“I remember the guy shot at a McDonald’s at a food court,” he said. “The whole collective energy of the room shoots up. The anxiety shoots up.”
After the shooting, the anxiety got to his then-pregnant mother, Eamaris Santiago, who was a month or so away from giving birth to his sister.
“When we felt it was safe to move, we went into a restaurant and I had a nervous breakdown,” Santiago said.
Three shots were fired.
“It shocked me to the core,” she said. “At that moment, I was thinking about saving my son, protecting him from harm. I even forgot my mom was with us.”
The incident pushed Santiago to move the family to the United States, where they relocated to Lake Orion in 1997, a place his mother and her other children still reside.
Montalvo, a senior graduating in May with a Bachelor’s degree in English and a concentration in poetry, does not let the incident hold him back.
Quite the contrary, actually. It inspires him.
A poem he wrote about the incident entitled “Mall Shooting, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1996,” appeared in the most recent edition of The Central Review, the university’s literary magazine.
“I’m focused on improving myself as a writer constantly,” he said. “I love reading poetry. I try to write everyday. I want to publish a collection of poetry.”
Playing mostly Jimi Hendrix songs and blues standards on his Epiphone Gibson SG guitar for hours takes up a large chunk of his day, too.
And don’t forget his love of sports.
Excited for the continuing NFL playoffs, he played football at Lake Orion High School, where he graduated from in 2008. Montalvo was even a state champion power lifter at the 165-pound weight class in high school.
His friend Pat Lawton, a graduate of CMU last spring, met Montalvo in 2010, sharing common friends and a mutual interest in music.
“He was a pretty quiet kid,” Lawton said, thinking back to their meeting. “Pretty sensitive.”
Despite this first impression, he grew to know Montalvo as someone who never quits at anything he does.
“I guess you could say that he’s very ambitious with his life,” he said. “If he sets something up, he’ll go ahead and do it.”
The middle of Montalvo’s poem describes the actions of the bullets (“pierced those porcelain tiles”) and two lines later, the bullets seem to say something to Montalvo: “Ah, yes, I’m here and it ends when I say it does.”
Not if Montalvo has anything to say about it.