Curt’s Café, Evanston community remember local man killed last week


Source: Karen Smith

Benjamin Bradford-Mandujano

Marissa Page, City Editor

The day after Benjamin “Bo” Bradford-Mandujano passed the test to obtain his food handler certification — the next step in his training at Evanston’s Curt’s Cafe — police discovered the 20-year-old fatally wounded in an alley.

Officers responded to shots fired calls last Tuesday night at approximately 9 p.m. They found Bradford-Mandujano in an alley in the in the 1300 block of Darrow Avenue, just a few blocks from his alma mater Evanston Township High School. He was immediately transported to Evanston Hospital for treatment, but police said he succumbed to his injuries just two hours later.

Bradford-Mandujano became a student at Curt’s Cafe in November. The local nonprofit provides job training to at-risk Evanston youth and employs them in a fully-functional restaurant.

Karen Smith, district manager for the cafe, said Bradford-Mandujano was shy at first, but eventually gained confidence in the kitchen as well as with the team and customers.

“We have staff and a lot of volunteers, and he became close with everybody,” Smith said. “He would always want to give somebody a hug when they came in. … When he comes up to you, you just have to (give him a hug).”

Although Bradford-Mandujano had just earned his food handler license, Smith said he had aspirations beyond the cafe.

She also said Bradford-Mandujano had an interview lined up with the outreach coordinator at the McGaw YMCA.

“His goal was to be a mentor, to advocate for our people and to make their lives better,” Smith said. “We want the senseless killing to stop, and if more people were like him and carry on his goal, our city of Evanston will be stronger and better. Things like this wouldn’t happen.”

Evanston police said they believed the shooting was targeted, and have no suspects in custody. Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd), whose ward includes the location of the shooting, said that police held a meeting Friday to provide him and concerned citizens with an update on the case.

“Considering (the shooting) was on Tuesday, there wasn’t a lot to update with,” Braithwaite said. “The meeting was an opportunity for the police to share how crimes are processed.”

Curt’s executive director Susan Trieschmann said Bradford-Mandujano’s presence would be deeply missed in the cafe.

“He first came shy and drawn in, and he took about a month and a half to warm up to everyone,” Trieschmann said. “That’s longer than usual, but when he did (warm up) he was so energetic and full of life. Everyone who knew him loved him.”

Curt’s Cafe team members organized and hosted a memorial service in Bradford-Mandujano’s memory Sunday. Smith said more 100 cafe employees, veterans, board members and friends of the nonprofit packed the restaurant to show their support and pay their condolences.

“People’s hearts go out but they don’t know what to do,” Smith said. “We decided to put together a place and a time for people to come who just wanted to be there and … let his mom know how much he was loved and appreciated in the Curt’s community.”

Bradford-Mandujano was raised by single mother Debbie Caluya, who set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for her son’s funeral arrangements, Trieschmann said.

Smith said Curt’s was also collecting donations to contribute toward Bradford-Mandujano’s funeral. The funeral is scheduled for Friday, with a visitation set for Thursday.

“The support has been overwhelmingly great,” Trieschmann said. “Everyone is mourning but everyone is doing their part to help each other.”

Cydney Hayes and Elena Sucharetza contributed reporting.

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