Kelvin Rolando Cruz Martinez and his mother were riding on a bus in Honduras several years ago when it hit a truck. Cruz Martinez survived the crash, but his mother didn't.
He eventually ventured north to the United States looking for a better life and a way to help relatives back home.
Money was tight, but life had indeed improved for the 27-year-old Roosevelt day laborer, making the discovery of his body May 8 in woods near the Meadowbrook Parkway in Freeport that much more shocking to those who knew him.
"I am asking God that he give me strength," Cruz Martinez's cousin and surrogate mother, Lourdes Chavez Martinez, said in Spanish. "He was practically a son for me."
Chavez Martinez, who lives in Miami, traveled to Long Island last month to retrieve his body and have it sent back to Honduras. He was buried there during the Memorial Day weekend.
State Police said they are investigating his death as a homicide, but how he died and who killed him remain a mystery.
Cruz Martinez had no enemies and no arrest record, said Thomas Hughes, a senior investigator in the New York State Troopers major crimes division.
"No one had a problem with him," Hughes said, adding that the 5-foot-1 Cruz Martinez was nicknamed "Shorty" by friends.
State police are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. The number for confidential tips is 631-756-3300.
Carlos Vasquez Castillo, 27, said he knew Cruz Martinez from their days in Honduras and on Long Island, where they occasionally would play soccer.
"He was happy," Castillo said in Spanish, but also "a little worried because he didn't have money."
He said Cruz Martinez worked as a day laborer most of the nearly two years he lived on Long Island, seeking out jobs near The Home Depot in Freeport. Hughes said Cruz Martinez was a frequent visitor to a trailer where day laborers sign up for daily jobs. His body was found in woods by the trailer, but there is no indication of a connection to the trailer program.
Chavez Martinez said that after his mother's death, Cruz Martinez decided he could best help his family by coming to the United States for work. He sent money back to his family, who live in a poor, rural area of Honduras. His mother had worked for a company packing bananas. His father cut sugar cane, she said.
Cruz Martinez spent about two years working in Florida, then moved to Long Island after losing his job. "He got along with everybody," Chavez Martinez said. "He was very respectful."