Ernesto “Xe” Acosta’s drum stood amidst a sea of strewn flowers, dictating a powerful rhythm to which a group of Aztec dancers began to chant. Slowly, people trickled into a circular formation on a hilltop in the northernmost corner of Alamo Square Park, where the aroma of burning copal filled the air as the sun shed its last warming rays on a day that changed the hearts of many.

On this day, it was not Xe who played the four-foot-tall ceremonial drum that his father had brought back from a trip to Mexico.

Xe would never play his drum again—yet the beat that ensued prompted the Danzantes to move their feet in perfect harmony; with the chatter of their ankle-rattles, they proudly bid one of their own farewell.

A large canvas depicting the Aztec Calendar marked the center of the circle, as well as poster boards lovingly adorned with pictures of a jovial young man with glossy curls that fell past his shoulders, and dark eyes that sparkled ethereally.

His friends organized the Feb. 16 memorial at the park, which was attended by an estimated 200 people who knew and loved him, as well as others who experienced him fleetingly and were touched by his presence.

After the sunset, attendees flooded Hayes Street with a stream of candles, marching solemnly towards the intersection where the young man was gunned down a week earlier.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 10, Xe was shot and killed at the corner of Hayes and Webster streets—no arrests have been made in the case.

According to information released by the San Francisco Police Department, Xe was walking to a friend’s house around 2 a.m., when he encountered his killer.

“We heard a noise about half a block away and later put together that it was a gunshot,” said Cory Jones, a neighbor who found Xe while walking home from a bar with his girlfriend. “We saw him there lying on the ground, breathing heavily; we tried to talk to him and hold his hand, but he didn’t respond.”

Many unanswered questions leave room for speculation about the young man’s untimely death: no signs of robbery or a physical altercation, no known enemies. Those who knew him best are certain that his death was an unprovoked act of violence.

The SFPD has confirmed that Xe had no criminal history, and in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, police spokesman Albie Esparza described his death as “a senseless, cold-blooded murder for no apparent reason.”

“I want the person who committed this heinous crime to see who Xe was, to see the bright shining star in our lives that was so callously extinguished,” said Amri Aguirre, Xe’s older sister. “I am not seeking vengeance—we do not need more violence in this world. But I do want retribution.”

Xe was 23-years-old with the wisdom of many lifetimes. Perhaps it was his travels that opened his mind to a greater consciousness and turned his heart to a simple kind of happiness.

From attending sweat lodges in Brazil to witnessing the Zenith Passage of the sun over Teotihuacan, Mexico, he spent much time away from home, but was sure to send regular emails to his beloved mother, Irma Braxton, and tend to his relationships with his siblings.

Xe grew up in Clovis, CA, and moved to San Francisco after high school where he enrolled at CCSF and was working towards his associate degree. He was an employee at the Whole Foods at Haight and Stanyan streets, and with his bright blue 1970 VW Bug and sincere smile, became something like a fixture in the neighborhood.

“Kindness was Xe’s default. It’s almost like he just couldn’t help it,” said Veronica Taormina, who worked at Whole Foods with Xe for two years. “I think anyone that interacted with Xe even for just a few short minutes could tell that much about him—that he was a kind, gentle soul.”

Xe had been greatly involved with the work of his father, Guadalupe Casas Acosta, who goes by the name “Mazatzin” and is renown throughout the Bay Area for his expertise on the Aztec Calendar.

In 2007, Mazatzin led a project that placed a colorful, 27-foot tile depiction of the ancient calendar on the front of the CCSF Mission campus.

Xe, along with his father and older brother, Abel Acosta, initiated a student club called “Toltekayotl” at CCSF, aiming to teach students about the indigenous “Mexika” culture of Mexico.

Since 2008, they have organized an annual Mexika New Year ceremony on March 12 in front of the CCSF Mission campus. The ceremony was officially recognized by way of a proclamation from the City of San Francisco in 2010.

Xe eagerly embraced his culture, strived to honor the elements and to live freely but mindfully everyday, leaving a footprint wherever he walked.

“He was great, not because he had a lot of money, or because he tried hard, but because he lived the type of life that we should all aspire to live,” said Steven Betham, a close friend.

At the memorial, Mazatzin described his son as having had “a beautiful life,” telling the crowd that Xe had already figured out what most people take a lifetime to learn—living each day to the fullest.

According to his father, Xe’s life motto was “Yo quiero vivir mi vida responsablemente (I want to live my life responsibly).”

“I believe that he fulfilled that mission,” he said.

Anyone with information regarding Ernesto Xe Acosta’s murder is asked to call police Sgt. John Burke at (415) 553-1145 or an anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, or to text a tip to TIP411 with “SFPD” at the start of the message. 

The Mexika New Year celebration will be held in Xe’s honor at the CCSF Mission campus on March 11, starting at 6:30 p.m.