MANILA, Philippines – In a statement sent to Bulletin Entertainment a few hours after his death, Bong R. Osorio, ABS-CBN Corporate Communications head, said: “Kapamilya talent AJ Perez passed away early Sunday morning after being rushed to a hospital in Tarlac. Together with his father, two road managers, a driver and an event marshal, they met a vehicular accident on their way back to Manila after a provincial show.

“ABS-CBN sympathizes with AJ’s family on his untimely demise, and urges everyone to pray for the eternal repose of AJ’s soul and for the family and loved ones he left behind. ABS-CBN continues to help AJ’s family during this difficult and discomforting time and to attend to the needs of the others that got hurt in the unfortunate accident.”

According to reports, the van that Perez was on got hit by a bus and a truck in Paniqui, Tarlac. He was on his way to Manila from the Kapamilya Karavan show in Dagupan City for the annual Bangus Festival.

Perez was rushed to Rayos Valentin hospital but was declared dead on arrival at 12:20 a.m. His father, Gerardo, two road managers, a driver and an event marshal survived the mishap.

The young actor’s last tweet around 10 p.m. of April 16 read: “On the way home already from Dagupan.Long drive ahead.. Thanks to everybody who watched…”

Perez was heading back to Manila to prepare for his supposed appearance on “ASAP Rocks” Sunday noon. His “ASAP” family paid tribute to the young actor on last Sunday’s show.

Gary Valenciano opened the show with fellow stars all in white. “Today we come to you with saddened hearts as we bear the news of the sudden passing of one of our brothers here in ‘ASAP’ and ABS-CBN: AJ Perez.

“We pray that the events happening, his mom and his dad, in this very unfortunate time… we lift ourselves to you Lord dahil medyo mabigat mag-show ng ganito because ito po ay pinaka-unang beses na nakaranas kami ng isang taong talagang connected po dito sa amin sa ‘ASAP’… ay wala na po siya.

“We pray for everyone mourning at this time, for this very tragic loss. Today, ‘ASAP Rocks’ with a heavy heart. But with our spirits lifted up, knowing that for a humble young man, like AJ, being with You is the best place for him to be.”

Trying to hold back tears, Gary continued: “AJ may no longer be with us physically but he left good memories… in our hearts; he will live on.

“AJ, we dedicate this show to you. It’s yours. Embrace him, Lord and make him know. Give him the best seat to watch what we offer him today. In Jesus’s name. Amen.”

Gary sang “Home” and addressed Perez for the last time, “AJ, you’ve gone home. We miss you.”

On “The Buzz” April17, Perez’s colleagues in showbiz shared their thoughts on the young star’s passing.

Jessy Mendiola, Perez’s leading lady on “Sabel,” said: “Kapag sinasabi ko hindi ko kaya, sasabihin niya, ‘Kayang kaya mo yan. Ang galing-galing mong umarte.’ Palagi siyang ganoon. Kahit mga masamang words ang ibato mo sa kanya, mabuting words sasabihin niya sa’yo. Ganoon siya kabait… Ini-expect namin anytime dadaan siya, maghe-hello, magha-hi, mag-smile sa amin… Ang hirap na tanggapin na wala siya.”

Gab Valenciano: “If he’s listening to me right now, I want to thank you for being an inspiration, not just to the younger people but myself, to the older guys. And I pray wherever you are, you are happy with the Creator. I love you, bro, and I will see you soon.”

Rayver Cruz: “Alam naming lahat kung nasaan siya ngayon, masaya siya. Pag-pra-pray namin siya. Sa family niya, stay strong na lang… Nandito kami lahat para sa kanila, sa family niya.”

A member of the Gigger Boys, Perez was remembered as a brother by the rest of the group –Enchong Dee, Dino Imperial, Robi Domingo, Chris Gutierrez, and Aaron Villaflor.

Sam Concepcion related on “The Buzz” what he felt upon learning of Perez’s death. “Noong nalaman ko ‘yon hindi ko pa kayang i-accept agad… When I found out about it, my heart was pounding. Ganoon pa din ang feeling ko hanggang ngayon.” He offered a song number “Gone Too Soon” on the show.

Perez was a member of Star Magic Batch 13 launched in 2006. Star Magic head Johnny Manahan said in a statement: “AJ’s death comes as a shock to all of us. We are saddened that he was cut down at such a tender age. We shared the deep felt sorrow of his family and we will miss him.”

The young actor, who entered showbiz as a commercial model, appeared on TV shows, among which are the teen-oriented program “Abt Ur Luv,” “Lobo,” “Agua Bendita,” and the most recently “Sabel.” His last TV appearance was on “Showtime.”

On the big screen, he last had a role in the Eugene Domingo starrer “Mamarazzi.”

It was reported that Perez was cast in the “Mara Clara” movie. On April 30, his “Maaalala Mo Kaya” episode will air on ABS-CBN.

A post on his Twitter account (ajperez17) posted on Sunday, 8 a.m. read: “Please visit him.” Perez’s remains lie at La Salle Greenhills Chapel until April 19.

By Jecelyn V. Macahindog