Known simply as "J.C." by his family and friends, Juan Carlos Escamilla had a smile that could make people feel at ease in the most difficult situations.
When the going got tough during basketball practice at Central Catholic High School 13 years ago, his teammates counted on him to lighten the mood with his gentle sense of humor.
"The thing I'll always remember about J.C. is his smile," former teammate James Hartnett said Wednesday. "J.C. was always the one who would make us laugh. He was always in a good mood."
Escamilla, named Juan Carlos Rodriguez then, was a standout senior guard on the 1997-98 Central Catholic team that beat Dallas Bishop Lynch for the TAPPS Class 5A state title.
Coached by Edward Ybarra, now Central Catholic's principal, the Buttons finished 19-11.
Escamilla radiated a zest for life and love for people wherever he went, Ybarra recalled.
"He always had a smile on his face," Ybarra said. "No matter what situation he was in, he always looked at the good side of things."
Sadly, Escamilla's life was cut tragically short. He was shot to death Sunday night in the parking lot of the Planet Fitness gym at Loop 410 and McCullough while walking a young woman to her car.
Escamilla was 31. He leaves behind a son, Julian, 10.
Coach: Escamilla a 'pure gym rat'
"This is such a tragedy," Ybarra said. "He always saw the good side of people. He didn't have a mean bone in his body."
Described as a "pure gym rat" by Ybarra, Escamilla had a sweet jumper and a deep passion for basketball. He continued playing in city leagues after graduating from Central Catholic in 1998.
"In all the years he was at Central, he would open up the gym and close down the gym, shooting, shooting and shooting," Ybarra said. "We always knew we would have a good game if he hit his first jump shot."
Hartnett, who lives in the Woodlands near Houston, learned of Escamilla's death from Ronnie Funari, the starting point guard on Central Catholic's 1997-98 championship team, early Monday.
"Ronnie texted me and I couldn't believe it," said Hartnett, 30. "I took it pretty hard because J.C. was one of my best friends on the team that season. He was just a great guy. I couldn't believe that this had happened to him. I was angry about the whole situation."
Funari, a junior when the Buttons won the title, also was left with a sense of deep grief after learning of Escamilla's death.
"It's a sick feeling that something like that could happen to somebody like him," said Funari, 31, a San Antonio attorney. "I never knew of anybody who had a problem with J.C. He was a genuinely good person and easy to get along with.
"He was a great teammate. He was one of the jokesters, one of the guys who made us laugh. We just developed a bond."
Rosary is Friday, Mass scheduled Saturday
Escamilla was a bank-teller supervisor at Frost Bank, and had started working part time at Planet Fitness just two weeks ago. The woman Escamilla was walking to her car also was shot and remains at University Hospital.
Margaret McCombs, 21, was a member of the Planet Fitness gym and a friend of Escamilla, police said.
Escamilla, McCombs and at least two other Planet Fitness gym employees were leaving Planet Fitness at about 7:15 p.m. Sunday when a man wearing black clothing ran toward them, police said. A witness told police the man pointed the gun and fired it
Yu Masaki, 27, was arrested by police Monday and has been charged with murder, attempted murder, and attempted aggravated assault of a public servant.
Police said Masaki had been barred from Planet Fitness for making "extremely aggressive advances" toward women at the gym. McCombs, police said, had rebuffed Masaki's advances and declined a gift from him.
The rosary for Escamilla will be said at 7 p.m. Friday at Porter Loring, 1101 McCullough. The funeral Mass is at 9 a.m. Saturday at San Fernando Cathedral, with burial at San Fernando Cemetery II.
Hartnett said he planned to be at the services Friday and Saturday.
"I've got to be there," Hartnett said. "There will be a lot of Central Catholic people there. It's going to be like a reunion, but it will be a sad one."