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Candace Mejia, 16 -- Shot

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Candace Michelle Mejia was shot and killed April 4 in an apartment on Hammond's west side. Hammond resident Derek Alexander Paolucci, 22 -- Mejia's boyfriend -- was charged with murder and reckless homicide in connection with the shooting death.

Paolucci initially told police his father shot Mejia, but Hammond Police Department evidence technicians found no traces of gunpowder on the father's hands. They did find evidence on Paolucci, who later told police he pointed the gun at her at his apartment in the 5900 block of Hyslop Place and fired, forgetting the weapon was loaded, police said.

He maintains the shooting was an accident.

"I never met this boy," Buse said. "The first time I saw him was at his arraignment."

Mejia was attending River Forest High School in Lake Station, but dropped out, her aunt said. She was attending Portage Adult Education classes in hopes of earning her general equivalency diploma but wanted more. The teen recently sought information about signing up for the U.S. Department of Labor's Job Corps, which allows young people to work while earning a GED in the hopes of getting a better-paying job when they complete their courses and job training.

"When we were cleaning the house, we found the folder with the information," Buse said. "She couldn't make it in high school, but she wanted to be somebody, and now she's just a statistic."

Buse said she would like for some good to come from her niece's death and said she hopes young girls heed her advice.

"I just wish girls would learn that any guy you think you love may not really be there for you," Buse said. "I have an 11-year-old daughter and I'm telling her she doesn't need a man to succeed. A person wants love, attention, friendship and someone to talk to at night, but just be leery of who you pick."



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