Rodriguez, 19, had found a good sales job at a jewelry store. "He had to wear suits and a tie and he was able to get people to buy," his mother Sandra Medina told CNN's "The Hunt with John Walsh." "He was real good at that."
He was talking about going back to school. "He was a people person," said his girlfriend, Yvette Jimenez.
During high school in his single-parent household, Rodriguez joined a gang to fit in and gain protection. Getting caught with a small amount of drugs landed him in juvenile detention.
He got out of detention when he turned 18. "That's when he started changing," Medina said. "Ruben didn't want to be involved with these people anymore."
Meanwhile a world away from Tucson's south side in the eastern part of town Anthony Burroughs enjoyed a comfortable upbringing in a middle class family with two parents.
Burroughs was a "wannabe," according to observers. The Filipino-American "passed himself off as being Hispanic," said Jen Rippey, a deputy U.S. Marshal who's been investigating the case for years.
Burroughs was "enamored with the gangster life," Rippey said. He had a police record for theft and assaulting his girlfriend. "From what I understand he never treated her right. He had a temper and would hit her," she said. "Anthony also was well-known to always have a gun of some sort."
When these two men's paths crossed at a house party on April 29, 2000, both their lives would drastically change forever.
Outside the house, "there was an altercation between Ruben and Anthony as Ruben was leaving," said Rippey.
"I was told that it was over a girl," said Melinda Ochoa, Ruben's ex-girlfriend.
"I was told that Ruben helped him up — gave him his hand and helped him up after the fight, and when Ruben was walking away, that he had shot him."
Then Burroughs took off into the desert, Rippey said, while Rodriguez staggered into the house and collapsed in the kitchen.
"People gathered around Rodriguez to help him, but it was no use," said Tucson police detective Tom Stewart.
"He was hit in the left shoulder," Stewart said. "The carotid artery was gone. You can't live without one of those."
When Rodriguez' mother got to the hospital, she was taken to a room where she was forced to undergo an agonizing wait to learn what had happened to her son.
"Finally a detective and a doctor walked in and they told me that my son was dead and I didn't believe them," she said. "I told them they were lying to me, that I needed to see Ruben. And they wouldn't let me see him. They wouldn't let me see my son."
Prosecutors charged Burroughs, 21, with murder, but just as police were preparing to arrest him, Burroughs was able to board a plane in Phoenix and escape to the Philippines.
Even though Burroughs was gone, police continued to work the case. "There were a lot of people giving misinformation," Stewart said. "At a certain point over the years you run out of people to talk to."
The investigation stalled, Rippey said.
The break in the case
It wasn't until 13 years later that Rippey found the break she needed to reignite the case.
According to a confidential source in the Philippines, Burroughs' mother in Tucson was sending him money there. Rippey obtained a warrant in 2014 to search Burroughs' mother's home.
After 14-hours of poring through her things, police found nothing, until they got to the last few boxes.
"We discover these letters that Tony wrote his mother from the Philippines," Rippey said. "The general theme in all of them is 'poor me.' Anthony was very much alive and well and living in the Philippines."
As a result, deputy U.S. Marshals have been sent to Manila to work with Philippines authorities to track Burroughs. Burroughs was last reported seen in Manila in May of 2014.
"We very much believe that Anthony's mother has tipped him off and drove him back underground," Rippey said. "We also believe she is still financing him in some way, shape or form."
"This is what I do. I chase fugitives," she said. "It doesn't matter. You can run as far as you want, for as long as you want, but eventually we'll be there."
Height: 5 feet, 7 inches
Weight: 200 pounds
Distinguishing features: numerous tattoos (3/4 sleeves on both arms, "Burroughs" on back)
Charged with murder
On the run since 2000
The victim's mother
"I'll always carry this pain," said Sandra Medina. "I'll always miss Ruben."
The victim's ex-girlfriend
"I have a daughter with Ruben. Her name's Maya," said Melinda Ochoa. "She's 16 now. But she was about 8 months old when Ruben passed away. She grew up without him and she misses him."
The victim's girlfriend
"It's not fair. It's not fair at all," said Yvette Jimenez. "You have an entire family that has this open wound that won't heal. It won't heal."