As a family boating magazine, each of us at PDB tries our best to give you spotlights, stories, and product reviews that further strengthen family ties and promote the love of the boating lifestyle. That being said, you really need to hear the story of Julian Romero and his father, shared by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Marin. Epitomizing these values and given further depth by tragedy and resilient inspiration, this account is directly tied to the creation of the first official U.S. Coast Guard app. In the words of Petty Officer Marin, here is Julian’s story:
Julian Romero had an interest in the law and its enforcement. He had completed a year at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy hoping to one day become an active duty Coast Guardsman when he decided to move back to his native Puerto Rico. In a tragic irony, a year later he would be murdered, and his father, a telecommunications executive, would dedicate himself to honoring his son’s love of law and public service.
In a voice hoarse with emotion, Julian’s father Luis says his son had become very homesick and decided he couldn’t stay in Massachusetts. “He transferred to study at InterAmerican University in Puerto Rico and thought about either joining the active duty Coast Guard or working with a different federal agency while trying to become a lawyer.”
At 17 years old and with a love of the sea and public service, Julian joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary, an all-volunteer group that supports the larger military organization. Julian was quiet, shy and had a kind and innocent look. By the time he was 19, he had the clean face of someone too young to need to shave everyday. His youthfulness was further portrayed by wearing his Coast Guard Auxiliary uniform in a manner that unintentionally made it look just slightly too big.
“[When he joined at] 17 years old, he was the youngest auxiliarist at Sector San Juan,” says his father. “After he came back from Massachusetts he became more active and donated a lot of time to the Coast Guard Auxiliary.”
On April 18, 2011, the family celebrated Julian’s 20th birthday at home. Afterward, Julian went out to a tourist area of San Juan for dinner with his girlfriend. After dinner, they went for a walk and were confronted by a 14-year-old boy, who robbed them at knifepoint.
Julian’s father still gets emotional when recalling the events of that night. “After my son gave up their cell phones and money, the kid proceeded to put them in restraints – plastic shackles,” says Luis. “Then the guy started to attack my son’s girlfriend.” Julian, while in the plastic shackles, did all he could to get between his girlfriend and the assailant. Doing his best to fight off the attack, Julian was stabbed repeatedly and his lungs were punctured. The police responded and took the young auxiliarist to the emergency room.
“It was terrible,” Luis painfully reminisces. “I got a call at approximately 10:30 that evening where the caller said to ‘get to the ER because your son has been mortally wounded.’” The unimaginable tragedy left its mark on the father. Luis’ salt and pepper hair – heavier on the salt – and thick dark brows magnify the emotions of the tragedy. Yet, he carries with him an air of confidence that comes from years of success in the telecommunications field. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management and a Masters of Business Administration, Luis started a telecom company in 1977. His first company shipped products to Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. His next company was one of the largest paging companies in Latin America, with offices in Puerto Rico, Argentina, Costa Rica and Brazil, handling more than 15 million calls per month. Now the older Romero owns a local exchange carrier in Puerto Rico dedicated to business communications. “You could call me a serial entrepreneur in the telecommunications industry,” Luis explains.
After his son’s death, Luis turned to his work to find a way to respond. He decided to honor Julian’s passion for public safety by providing a way to prevent other parents and family members from going through the horrors Luis faced. “Rather than just complaining and demanding [answers], my wife and I said ‘No! We’ll offer how to help,’” remembers Luis. “So, we created an app: BastaYa.’”
“Basta ya” is Spanish for “that’s enough.” It was a phrase Julian would often use while discussing crime in Puerto Rico, according to Luis. “BastaYa was the first time we worked with law enforcement to create software,” Luis adds. “We came out with the app in record time and made it available seven months after my son was killed.” The app allows civilians to report crime. Since its release, the app has been downloaded more than 47,000 times and has been used to send 6,800 tips, including those sent anonymously. “We average about ten tips per day,” Luis shares. “It’s helped solve a lot of crimes and save lives.”
Flush with the success of the crime-fighting app, the Romeros brainstormed additional ways to perpetuate Julian’s devotion to public safety. Luis remembered how much the Coast Guard meant to his son and that his son meant a lot to those in the Coast Guard. “In the Coast Guard, Julian found a great family,” says Luis. “That same family was very good to us. When our son died they came to our help, and we came together to get through it as a family.”
“My favorite story was of an elderly lady in the [auxiliary],” Luis continues. “She was physically challenged, and every time she would volunteer, my son would accompany her to her home to make sure that everything was fine. I also heard he would often be the first to volunteer when a need for [an auxiliarist] arose.”
“I thought to myself, we needed to do something for him as a legacy, so, that’s what we did,” says Luis. In June of 2012, Luis traveled to Washington in an attempt to make a presentation about a possible Coast Guard app to the House Homeland Security Committee. “Congressman Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, asked us to come back the following month,” says Luis. “I met with him and showed him the BastaYa app, and said we could do something similar for the Coast Guard.”
After meeting with the committee chairman, Luis met with Coast Guard representatives who thought creating a Coast Guard app was a great idea. The next hurdle was the potential magnitude of the in-kind donation of services that the Romeros were offering the Coast Guard. “Quite frankly, if you look at the potential for downloads here, and you put a theoretical value of one dollar per download, this could be a multi-million-dollar donation to the Coast Guard,” Luis explains. “The Coast Guard is not accustomed to donations of that size. Usually donations are done through the Coast Guard Foundation but never directly.”
Luis and company were able to work together and settle on the value of the donation that the development of the app represented. Once that was worked out, the development of the app began. “There aren’t many [Department of Homeland Security] apps out there, so it’s still a very new process,” says Lt. Anastacia Visneski, the Coast Guard’s digital media officer.
Development of the app was challenging because there would be 27 people representing all the different aspects: marine safety, security, and weather. And as a government app, Luis and company went through a rigorous digital ‘carwash’ to make sure there were no security violations and no points of data leak. On the process of ensuring the app would not expose any geo-location or personal information, Visneski explains, “It was many hours of sitting with the lawyers and going over the privacy act.”
Now complete, the Coast Guard app had its official launch on May 16 and serves as a one-stop shop for recreational boaters, providing users access to a vast variety of information. “The app is helping the Coast Guard move forward into digital technology,” Visneski enthuses. According to Visneski, until now, the Coast Guard hasn’t provided the public much of an alternate means of reaching out to the service. The app is a collection of the most commonly requested boating information compiled into a single digital location, and it aids the public in acquiring vital safety and security information faster and easier.
“It was an incredible group effort between BastaYa, all of the people in the Coast Guard and the people in DHS,” Visneski adds. Not only did Luis and his foundation, BastaYaPR Inc., commit to developing the application at no cost, but they also committed to supporting it, including updates, for the app’s lifespan at no cost. “It’s been a lot of fun working with Mr. Romero,” Visneski says. “He’s very passionate about this project and obviously very generous. He just has this will about him that when he decided this was going to happen, there was no stopping him. There were so many hoops we had to jump through; it was kind of a harrowing experience, and he hung in there.”
The still-grieving father and technology entrepreneur attributes his tenacious patience to a debt that he owed to public safety inspired by his son. “When you have a talent and a capability and you don’t use it, it is sinful. It is wasted,” explains Luis. “I believed I had the talent and the capability. I had a vision, and I thought I could help. So, I went ahead and did it.” While the loss of his son was a tragedy, Luis’ work with the Coast Guard will ensure Julian’s spirit of safety and public service lives on. The new Coast Guard app serves to fulfill Julian’s drive to help others and save lives.