When Mateo Gomez invited his older sister, Andrea Gomez, to visit him at his home in New York City for her 33rd birthday, he had a plan.
The pair saw a drag show and watched “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway, walking for hours between each stop on the trip. As they walked, Mateo Gomez told his sister — a Miami, Florida resident — that each destination was just around the corner.
“It was so much fun, every walk everywhere because he will say, ‘Oh, it’s just right here,’ and I will walk and walk and walk for hours,” Andrea Gomez said. “I was like, this is not funny. We don’t walk in Miami like this.”
For his sister’s birthday last year, Mateo Gomez flew in from Boston to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he took a train straight from the airport to a club in downtown Miami to attend her party.
“All the way down from there to the club with his luggage to go party with me,” Andrea Gomez said. “That was very sweet — very special.”
Mateo Gomez, a Harvard Kennedy School student in the mid-career master in public administration program and a special agent for the FBI, was born in Medellín, Colombia, and immigrated to Miami when he was 10. Friends and family remember Gomez as a fierce advocate for LGBTQ+ rights who was passionate about giving back to those around him.
Gomez died by suicide at his residence in Boston on Dec. 17, 2022. He was 32.
When Mateo Gomez was admitted to Cornell University for his undergraduate degree, Andrea Gomez said it was an important moment for their family. The family learned to speak English through the many jobs they worked in the service industry, she said, and none spoke English before moving to the United States.
“It was the first one of us leaving home to go to a university, and my mom was very excited and very supportive,” Andrea said. “We all were, and were very proud of him. And we always supported him in whatever he wanted to do.”
In summer 2012, after his graduation from Cornell, Mateo Gomez began working at Teach for America, a national nonprofit that trains recent college graduates to serve as teachers for underserved classrooms.
He moved to Los Angeles for training, where he met Phil Y Kim, another Teach for America member.
“I think anyone who met Mateo immediately felt a sense of community with him,” Kim said. “He had this ability to relate to people in a way that was just really affirming and welcoming.”
Together, they threw parties and “were meeting everybody they could,” Kim said. They bonded over a similar desire to give back to the education system that they felt they had benefited from.
“He and I were both similar in that we wanted to do something meaningful that had a high impact,” Kim said. “We both cared deeply about our education system and wanted to make a contribution towards the system that really took care of us and benefited and supported us along the way.”
When Gomez began teaching at a middle school in San Jose, California, he developed strong ties with his students, according to Kim. After his death, videos surfaced of Gomez dancing with his students.
“His ability to connect with young people was just so evident in his teaching days, and I know that subsequently, since he left the classroom, he would always fondly recall his relationship with his kids and families that he really enjoyed,” Kim said.
Kim said he believes this same desire to give back led Gomez to join the FBI, starting with working a part-time job in linguistics, then transitioning to full-time work combating cyber crime.
“He has always been someone deeply committed to public service and just really believed in trying to improve things for everyone by working from within,” Kim said.
Gomez’s partner of six months, Luis C. Herrera Favela, said Gomez had a strong drive to improve the world around him.
After the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, Florida, Gomez immediately volunteered to aid the FBI investigation, Herrera Favela said he learned from a colleague following Gomez’s death. Gomez, who shared a Latino and gay identity with many of the victims, helped to comfort those affected by the tragedy, Herrera Favela said the colleague told him.
“In this school, everyone is bragging about things. He never said anything. And he actually was in the frontline of really important things,” Herrera Favela said.
“He always had this amazing sensibility to step back,” Herrera Favela added. “Usually here leadership is understood as the opposite, that stands front. But for him, when he had the opportunity, leadership was exactly the opposite, he would step back and allow other people to say things.”
Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf and Senior Associate Dean for Degree Programs and Student Affairs Debra E. Isaacson shared condolences after Gomez’s death in a statement on Dec. 18, 2022.
“When Mateo arrived here for the MC/MPA Summer Program, he described his interests in wonderfully broad and meaningful terms, citing travel, languages, and international affairs alongside coffee, democracy, social justice, and ‘inclusion and equality in the new world,’” they wrote.
“Mateo’s passing is a heartbreaking loss for his family and friends, for everyone at the Kennedy School, and for the many people he had already served in his life or would have served after graduation,” they added.
Mateo Gomez was always open about his identity as a gay man, Andrea Gomez said.
“Very open, no shame,” she said. “My parents have always been very supportive. My dad has gay flags everywhere.”
During his time in the FBI and beyond, Gomez looked to create spaces for LGBTQ+ people. According to Kim, Gomez helped revive the FBI’s participation in New York City’s Pride March and worked to start an LGBTQ+ affinity group within the FBI.
When Gomez first moved to New York at the start of his career with the FBI, he had a challenging time making friends, Kim said.
When Kim visited, the pair decided to attend a drag event put on by the Gay Latino Collective — a New York-based social and professional group — in order to meet more people. When the pair walked in, they didn’t know anyone.
“Of course, with Mateo, we were running late because he’s always doing his hair,” Kim said.
When the pair left the venue, they realized Gomez had learned names but not gotten numbers or social media accounts.
“And classic Mateo, he was both incredibly fun and outgoing and also super shy at the same time,” Kim said. “And I was like, Mateo, go back in and go talk to someone and get a number.”
Ultimately, Gomez became deeply involved with the organization, Kim said.
“Since then I think he just kept on meeting more and more people and he ended up becoming somewhat of a leader in the group, helping to organize things,” Kim said.
“I know they really embraced him,” he added.
In a Dec. 18, 2022 post, the Gay Latino Collective said Gomez’s “calm demeanor” and “dry sense of humor” will “forever bring smiles to our faces.”
“But to us, it’s your love of family and cultural identity that will remain the highlight of your life, for it’s what initially drew us together and always kept our interactions genuine and joyful!” the group wrote in the post.
Though Gomez was open about his sexuality, he rarely discussed his work with the FBI. After his death, family and friends learned more about his stories working as a special agent from his colleagues.
Andrea Gomez recalled a recent Christmas when their family planned on reuniting in Miami. Mateo Gomez canceled three days before with little explanation, saying only that it was work-related.
It wasn’t until after her brother’s death that Andrea Gomez learned about his role investigating Venezuelan criminals who lived in Cabo Verde. He was the only agent in his group who spoke English, Portuguese and Spanish, and the FBI needed him to translate for the operation.
“They were surprising in a way because we didn’t know the level of how important his position was, since he never really spoke much about what he did in his job,” Gomez said. “But at the same time, the way he was as a person and professional — it all made sense. All his coworkers loved him very much because he was very caring, calm, and selfless.”
Still, Gomez’s privacy around his work did not take away from his ability to connect with those around him.
“He had this really calm demeanor about him that I think a lot of people really, really loved about their relationship with him,” Kim said. “You could sit down and talk to him for hours and hours about pretty much anything.”
Herrera Favela said it was “so easy” to be with Gomez, who was “not judgmental at all.”
“Maybe it was a piece of how he talked. He was always interested in you,” Herrera Favela said. “He always memorized small details of your life.”
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You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.