Brother, best friend, and hero: these were some of the words used to describe 16-year-old Jessie Ulibas Jr., a high school student whose death earlier this month shocked the community.
Hundreds gathered at St. Elizabeth's Church on Saturday to commemorate Ulibas at a "Celebration of Life" mass, during which family members and friends took the stage to read prayers and share memories of Ulibas.
Danny Cervantes, Ulibas' best friend since third grade, gave a moving eulogy.
"JR was my brother. He is my brother and always will be my best friend, and I love you," he said, his voice breaking. "And I will see you soon."
The two had been very close until high school, when they grew apart.
But Ulibas remained committed to his family, Cervantes said. When he asked him to hang out on the weekends, "every Saturday he'd have to go to a party for his family," he said.
One memory evoked laughter from the audience. "We were the chunkiest kids in school–we didn't have necks!" he joked.
Another friend, eleventh grader Jennifer Nichols, was heartbroken by the death of Ulibas. For her, he was an elder brother. "He was my hero," she said tearfully.
Her boyfriend Lehi Fangonil, who knew Ulibas since eighth grade, recalls how caring he was.
"I almost got in a fight and he was the first one there to separate me from the other person," he said.
Donaisha Perry remembers Ulibas from her algebra class when he was a freshman, and descibes him as rather reserved but good-natured.
"I would always talk to him. He always made me laugh," she said.
Mayor Jose Esteves, a close friend of the family, said he hoped they would be able to move forward from the tragedy.
"It's very difficult because he was a young person, which means he had a bright potential in the future,” he said.
He added that he does not want to know the cause of Ulibas' death because he worries for other young people. He hopes that it is instead a learning moment, "especially for youngsters."
"Make the most of today because we don't know what will be tomorrow," he said.
Esteves added that the tremendous outpouring from his friends is a reflection of his good character, and that he seemed to have "made the most of what he had, that's the good part of it."
His cousin, Joyce Ulibas Bombita, echoed that sentiment.
"It shows so much how he affected so many people’s lives and he didn’t even realize it," she said, noting that Ulibas' friends have been a "backbone" of support.
"That’s where he lives on," she said.
Elder to Ulibas by 11 years, Bombita fondly remembered how he would climb onto her arm and piggyback on her when he was little. She would call him his "little monkey," until he got too big–then she started calling him a baby gorilla, which turned into a nickname that stuck: Baby G.
"I was his Momma G," she recalls with a laugh. "It was a little thing between us that he took on to become his nickname."
Baby G and "JR" – for "junior" – are what his friends and family call him.
Ulibas' father, Jessie Sr., said he was deeply thankful for the emotional and financial support the community has provided. Donations helped defray costs of the funeral services.
In a striking display of support from the community, a motorcade of around 115 cars escorted by nearly a dozen Milpitas police vehicles followed the ceremony as it wrapped around the city before arriving at the Lima Family Milpitas Fremont Mortuary.
Ulibas is survived by his parents, older brother and a younger brother and sister.