High school football teams honor 15-year-old teammate who was murdered at pool party

CHARLOTTE — Two high school football teams are hitting the field Thursday night in honor of a teammate who was taken too soon.

John Morales was shot and killed at a pool party over Memorial Day weekend. On Thursday, he would have celebrated his 16th birthday.

There aren’t many places Morales felt more at home or more alive than he did on the football field. In his own way, John’s coy smile was quite often the perfect disguise for his skill. His mother says John could play anything and was good at everything.

“John loved football. It was like an addiction,” Melissa Carrillo said. “But he loved defense. He loved tackling. I would always tell him that’s the worst position.”

But no position was worse than where Carrillo sits now. During Memorial Day weekend, Morales, a student at North Mecklenburg High School, was shot and killed. It happened near a neighborhood pool in east Charlotte.

Morales was only 15 years old and so were the two suspects charged with his murder.

“Children carrying guns is the worst thing that could happen to us -- to humanity,” Carrillo said. “I would have my son right now.”

Morales’ youth team in Charlotte’s Derita neighborhood released balloons in his honor. The junior varsity squad at North Meck High also recognized his impact on their team and school, releasing butterflies in his memory.

John’s mother finds solace in the support her son has gotten from the community. Morales’ best friend, Keishaun Harper, does too. He wears a necklace to remember Morales.

“I never take it off,” Harper said. “That’s actually why I got this right here. I got a necklace that says ‘number 22′ and it says ‘Johnny.’ I wear it every time I play.”

Harper says the next time he plays will mean the most. He and John played high school football on different teams -- Morales for North Meck and Harper, for Julius Chambers.

But on Thursday, which is also John’s birthday, the two teams will face each other.

“He can’t finish where he left on the field, so why don’t I go finish it for him?” Harper asked.

Melissa Carrillo still carries the weight from a teenage son robbed of the chance to live his dream himself, and the guilt that she couldn’t do more to save him.

“It’s still heavy on me,” she said. “I feel like I could’ve done more that day for him.”

But that didn’t stop her from doing more after that day. With his own life stolen, John Morales still is saving lives with his kidneys, his liver and his heart.

“It makes me happy to know that one day, I will be able to hear his heart beat again and be able to meet the families -- maybe one day,” Carrillo said. “I miss him, a lot.”

>> The U.S. just reached its 1 millionth organ transplant. To learn more, including how to become an organ donor, click for information from the United Network for Organ Sharing.

You can visit livingitforward.org for testimonials and stories from organ donors and recipients.

(WATCH BELOW: Man arrested, charged with murder after deadly shooting at bus stop in Concord, police say)