Eloy Perez, a standout youth athlete in Thurston County who later discovered boxing and turned pro, died this month in Tijuana, Mexico, a family member said Monday. He was 32.
Eloy’s sister, Emma, said he died Oct. 5. She learned about his death on Saturday.
Perez was in Mexico following being deported in 2016 after he spent more than a year at the immigrant detention center in Tacoma.
Emma, who said she has been in contact with Eloy’s girlfriend, said her brother was the victim of a homicide. She denied a rumor that spread over the weekend that he had taken his own life. However, she was still waiting to see a police report of the incident, she said Monday.
A celebration of life is planned, but details of the gathering are still being worked out, she said.
Emma remembered her brother Monday as “awesome,” a “great person,” and someone who never had trouble making friends.
“He had the most beautiful smile ever,” she said. “He would walk into a room and you would feel instantly connected to him. He just grabbed you.”
She also said he was a great uncle to her children.
“He loved life,” she said. “He loved doing anything for anybody and he never wanted to disappoint anybody.”
Perez came to the U.S. from Mexico with his family when he was a toddler and grew up in south Thurston County, where he attended Rochester High School and Rainier High School.
Jim Douglas of Rochester, who introduced Eloy to the world of boxing, first met him and his family when they were living out of a trailer in the Rochester area. He invited them to live on his property and they did.
Perez played soccer and football, but when Douglas learned that he got into scrapes at school, he introduced him to amateur boxing. He recalled that Eloy’s first fight was at Yardbirds in Centralia when he was just 13.
He was left-handed, and he wanted to lead with his left, Douglas remembered, but they stuck to a conventional boxing approach and saved his left hand for a big hook.
“All of the sudden this (boxing) skill started to come out,” Douglas said Monday.
Perez would go on to a professional career record of 23-1-2. He was a former WBC United States (USNBC) and WBO-NABO Jr. lightweight titleholder, Fightnews.com reported over the weekend.
“His lone pro defeat was in his bid for the WBO 130 lbs. strap, losing to Adrien Broner via 4th round stoppage in February of 2012,” the Fightnews.com story reads.
That was the last time he fought, Emma said.
Although Perez came to the U.S. years ago, he remained an undocumented immigrant.
A pair of DUI arrests eventually landed Eloy in jail. After more than a year at the immigrant detention center, the court offered him a choice: stay in the center indefinitely or be deported to Mexico, a country where he had never lived, knew only distant relatives and did not speak the language fluently.
Emma said he had found work in Mexico, and his girlfriend, who lived in California, would visit him on weekends.
“It was a different lifestyle down there,” she said.