East Palo Alto teen was victim in trailer fire

Boy, 16, found in blaze started at abandoned Romic chemical refinery site

He was the "king" of skateboarders in his hometown of East Palo Alto; the young man who always had a smile for everyone. Now family and friends are wondering how his body came to be burned beyond recognition in a trailer at an abandoned hazardous-materials site.

Miguel Melendrez Bustos, 16, was found amid a burned-out trailer shell and debris on April 24 after Menlo Park Fire Protection District firefighters extinguished a blaze. The fire was first reported at 1 a.m. at the former Romic chemical refinery site on Bay Road.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault confirmed Melendrez Bustos as the deceased person through DNA analysis earlier this week.

The cause of death is still under investigation, Foucrault said.

Several trailers and storage containers are the only items left on the former refinery plant site since it shut down in 2007 and was disassembled.

"There was no power to the trailers and no reason for anyone to be out here," Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said after the incident.

The trailers are located behind fencing and locked gates. But there is evidence of extensive graffiti at the site, a sign that people have found ways to enter.

Friends and neighbors of the teen said he was a junior at Redwood High School in Redwood City. He was an avid skateboarder who always had a ready smile, they said.

"He was a really good kid. He was well loved in the community. He loved to ride his skateboard, and he taught the younger kids how to ride," neighbor Peggy Walters said.

Melendrez Bustos usually stuck close to home near his grandmother's house on Glen Way, hanging out with his friends.

"I don't understand why he was down there," she said.

Melendrez Bustos lived with his mother, a young brother and sister at their grandmother's house until recently, Laritza Valencia, a schoolmate, said. He, his mother and siblings recently moved to an apartment on the west side of U.S. Highway 101. They live in the same building across the hall from Valencia and her family, and she drove him to school every day, she said.

"He was always a happy person. He was always there to cheer people up," she said. When anyone had a problem, he was always there to listen and to make them feel better, she added.

Walters said that Melendrez Bustos had briefly had some trouble at school and he briefly left. But "he really loved school. He decided to go back," she said.

She had talked with the teen about returning to school -- about how much he loved to teach the younger ones to skateboard -- and how if he stuck with school he could do something with his love for children, she recalled. She said she didn't know if the talk influenced his decision to return to classes, but "I figured he liked to help the community," she said.

Street-corner memorials for deceased young people aren't unusual in East Palo Alto. Melendrez Bustos got two.

At the Bell Street Park skate park where Melendrez Bustos perfected his moves, grief flowed in spray paint on nearly every surface -- the fences, the concrete grounds and the apparatus on which Melendrez Bustos once did his trick skating.

"RIP King."

"God takes all the good ones."

"I love you, Miguel."

Skateboards, some broken in half, mingled amid the votive candles, hats, flowers, photographs. On Garden Street, at the corner near his grandmother's home, neighbors set up a second memorial: flowers, candles, a red rosary, photographs and messages.

Redwood High School officials did not return requests for comment on how his classmates are coping. But Valencia said the high school has offered counselors to help the students deal with their grief. They even came to her residence.

"They offered me help, but I didn't take any," she said.

Police said in April that they do not consider the fire suspicious. But rumors about what happened to Melendrez Bustos are circulating around the community in the absence of information as the investigation continues. Walters said she has heard four herself.

But whatever the reasons, there is only one reality behind Melendrez Bustos' death: "For this to happen was such a tragedy," she said.

A neighbor has set up a crowdfunding site to help pay for funeral expenses.

Calls to a police department investigator were not returned. But police and fire department arson investigators are still looking at the circumstances surrounding the blaze, East Palo Alto police spokesman Sgt. Angel Sanchez said.

Police are asking anyone with information about what might have happened to call the East Palo Alto police dispatch at 650-321-1112; Detective Tommy Phengsene at 650-798-5944 or by sending an anonymous email to, anonymous text to 650-409-6792 or anonymous voice mail to 650-409-6792.

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1 person likes this
Posted by East of 101
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 13, 2015 at 9:57 am

This upsets me beyond comprehension. Our kids in Belle Haven and East Palo Alto deserve so much better. They too should know that they have the same opportunity to learn, become leaders, and lift their community to pay it forward. Our kids need exposure to the world outside the poor communities. Weed and alcohol is not recreational, picking up a book is, having fun with your friends where everyone is looking out for each other. Teens are faced with so much peer pressure. I am a parent who's is fully aware of why my child might face with her peers. I can only say, that our kids have to do their part by selecting their friends carefully. As much as I wish to protect my teens 24 hours a day, I can't.

3 people like this
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2015 at 5:12 pm

What a terrifying, horrific tragedy. My condolences to his community, his family and his other loved ones.

Our youth already face so many stressful challenges, so it's hard to imagine what really happened. The skateboarders are so confident and vital, they're a joy to watch. I wish them all safety and joy.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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