The man who prosecuted his killer is helping this Woodrow student’s dreams live on

Taly Haffar has prosecuted his share of rape, assault and murder cases. The Dallas County assistant district attorney works in a general felony court and deals with criminals and their victims almost every day.

But nothing has affected him like the murder of 17-year-old Woodrow student Gustavo Ipiña.

“It is actually the only case that really has kept me up at night,” Haffar says. “It seemed like he was on his way — he had all these big dreams, and to see them go unfulfilled, that’s what stuck with me.”

Ipiña was shot in the head during a road rage incident in August 2004. He and his brother were riding in a van with four other men on their way home from work when another van tried to run them off the road. Then the driver, Richard Arechiga, shot into the van, killing Ipiña.

“Our concern was that people would hear it on the news and think, ‘Oh, Hispanic kid — he was probably doing something wrong.’ He wasn’t,” says Marjorie Shaw, who taught Ipiña for three years in Woodrow’s English as a Second Language program “That’s the word I wanted to get out — not this kid.”

The case was assigned to Haffar, and as he probed deeper, he soon discovered he was dealing with someone special. Ipiña was the youngest son of U.S. immigrants, and he would have been the first in his family to attend college. His older siblings didn’t have that chance, Haffar says, but they were concentrating on pushing Ipiña in that direction.

“He wanted to make his family proud by becoming an architect and building his mom a big beautiful house,” Haffar reflects. “He was actually wanting a future that a lot of kids in that situation kind-of give up on.”

Shaw, who spearheaded a tree planting on Woodrow’s campus in Ipiña’s memory, still keeps a photo of him on her desk and says it will probably remain there until she retires.

“He was the kind of kid who spent a lot of time at the library and went to church of his own accord, yet there wasn’t anything nerdy about him. He was just one of those cool kids who made good choices,” Shaw says.

The Friday before the trial was set to begin, Arechiga opted to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a 10-year sentence. Haffar decided that Ipiña’s family members and friends should be informed in person, so he scheduled a meeting the next day at the Lakewood Library.

Shaw says she was “bowled over” when five attorneys showed up on a Saturday morning to deliver the news. They asked Ipiña’s friends if they had questions or wanted to share feelings. Most of the mourners were 16- to 18-year-olds, Shaw says, and Ipiña’s death was the worst thing that had ever happened to them. The attorneys’ sensitivity amazed her.

“I thought it would pretty much be stamp, stamp, next,” she says. “I didn’t expect anybody to get emotionally involved because they see this stuff all the time.”

Haffar’s emotional involvement didn’t stop there. He wanted to somehow honor Ipiña, so he decided to create a scholarship in his name for Woodrow ESL students. It will be awarded annually to a student who emulates Ipiña’s spirit — honest, cooperative, polite and hard working, Shaw says. They managed to raise $8,000 over the last year, and the first $5,000 scholarship was awarded in April to Cesar Ortiz.

Haffar’s long-term goals are to give out more than one scholarship a year and eventually build up enough funds to make it a four-year scholarship.

“His story is an inspirational one,” Haffar says, “and if we can help one or two students a year, we’ve done something, and it’s better that we can do it in his name.”

Want to contribute to the Gustavo Ipiña Memorial Scholarship Fund? Make a check out to “G.I.M.S.” and mail it to the address below:

6154 St. Moritz

Dallas TX 75214

For a receipt for your donation,  contact taly@gustavoscholarship.org.


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