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Goliad students hold balloon release in memory of fellow student

June 2, 2011 at 1:02 a.m.
Updated June 3, 2011 at 1:03 a.m.

Family members of Abril Villarreal cry as the bright, colorful balloons lift their way to the heavens.  Students from Goliad High School joined Abril's family in a memorial service at the school's stadium, releasing balloons in her memory.

GOLIAD - Abril Villarreal's mother and father, Rosie and Richard G. Villarreal, clutched each other, her mother stifling her sobs with her fist as the balloons sailed into the sky.

"She would have loved this," Rosie Villarreal said. Abril, 17, was a student at Goliad High School. She died on Sunday.

On Thursday morning, Abril's family, including her mother and father Richard G. Villarreal joined students and faculty in the football field bleachers of Goliad High School for a balloon release in her memory.

Abril was one of seven people riding in a 2002 Ford Explorer, driven by Juan Salazar, 17, of Beeville, when Salazar lost control of the car.

It rolled five times before coming to rest, ejecting five of the passengers in the car, none of whom were wearing seatbelts.

Abril was pronounced dead at the scene. Benjamin Rodriguez, 17, of Beeville, died in a Corpus Christi hospital on Monday.

Goliad High School students Elizabeth Dorantes, 16, and Kayla Warren, 16, were also injured in the wreck.

The news came as a shock to the close knit community of Goliad, and the students and faculty at Goliad High School have spent the last few days struggling to cope with Abril's death.

On Thursday, the school stopped everything to celebrate her life.

The students looked solemn as they filed out to the football field, taking their seats in the stands.

Goliad High School Principal Emilio Vargas III stood before the students, talking about Abril and how he had known her since she was in fifth grade.

He described Abril, known as "April" to her friends, as a girl with a vivacious personality. She was someone who took pride in her art, had the courage to argue for what she thought was right and loved to laugh.

She planned on being an art teacher, her friend Mercedes Garcia said.

She wanted to make a difference in people's lives, Chelsea Castilla recalled.

Her closest friends stood apart to release their balloons.

They agreed that the truth hadn't sunk in yet.

"We haven't come to terms with it yet," Garcia said. "We're still crying, but none of us believe it yet."

Her cousin, Heather Villarreal, said Abril would have been thrilled with the ceremony.

Most of the balloons were red because that was her favorite color, she said.

Abril's family gathered in a tight cluster in the center of the bleachers, each grasping a balloon to be released.

"This is wonderful. If anything, she deserves more than 100 balloons. She was a wonderful person," Abril's aunt, Yvette Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the family is doing their best to cope with the tragedy. Sanchez's husband died of cancer on Sunday.

"It's really hard, what we're all going through," Sanchez said.

The crowd gathered in the bleachers went silent, with tilted heads and squinted eyes, as red balloons started floating toward the glaring blue sky.

"It was weird because it looked like they formed a happy face in the sky," Abril's friend Brittany Campbell said.

Vargas said the week has had everyone on an emotional roller coaster, veering between elation at the end of the school year and the joy of the graduating seniors, and deep sorrow at Abril's sudden death.

Abril was set to be one of two school mascots next year. Vargas said they won't replace her.

"We will not fill the mascot position. We are going to keep the position empty in her honor. We will not forget," Vargas told the audience.

At his signal, the school band played the alma mater, and then launched into the "Tiger Rag," the song the mascot performs to.

Vargas led the crowd in clapping along to the song. His face was carefully controlled and his lips were clamped tightly together as he clapped his hands to the beat.

In the audience, sobs were audible over the music.

When they had finished playing, Vargas closed by reminding the audience to remember Abril's love of life and to value their own.

The balloons were now pinpricks of color in the sky. Vargas told everyone to look up at them, and think of how Abril, as an artist, would have appreciated their beauty.

Vargas urged the crowd to appreciate the gift of life.

"It's up to us to live life to the fullest, because we never know when our last day, our last breath, will be," he said.

Corrected June 4, 2011



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