Community prays for Goliad County crash victims
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A couple walked hand in hand to the altar at Santisima Trinidad Church, joining others to light 23 candles where the flags of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico were on display Tuesday night.
The crowd of about 85 repeated the phrase "a person cannot love God without loving their neighbor," interchanging English and Spanish as each candle was lit.
The candles and flags were on display next to a picture of the patron saint of immigrants, Toribio Romo, to remember the passengers who were involved in a one-vehicle wreck that killed 15 and injured eight in Goliad County on Sunday night. Gregory Palmore, of the Office of Public Affairs - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed Monday that all passengers in the 2000 Ford F-250 truck came from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, each suspected by ICE officials to be illegal immigrants.
"I doubt any of us knew them. But when that truck came to a violent stop miles from here, they became part of our community," the Rev. Stan DeBoe, of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Victoria, remarked during his homily.
The voices of a children's choir singing hymns in Spanish flowed from the balcony throughout the church. Some of the children were around 8 and 10, the same ages as two of the deceased girls from Sunday's accident.
Tuesday's Mass was a regularly scheduled service, but given the tragedy, DeBoe and other members of the parish felt they needed to do something.
"Most of the people here tonight came because of email and social media posts promoting this prayer service for the injured migrants. We usually only have 10-15 people," DeBoe said.
There were people from Victoria and Goliad, but also other surrounding areas, he said. Nuns from both Victoria and Goliad came to pray with the community and offer comfort.
ICE confirmed Tuesday that a male passenger died in a San Antonio hospital, raising the death toll to 15. Eight of the original 23 passengers remain alive. Four have died in area hospitals since the wreck occurred.
"I'm here in support. I, too, came here illegally and I feel connected with the passengers because of that. I feel their same pain," Lorenzo Luna, now a U.S. citizen, said in Spanish after the Mass.
Many of the people who came to the Mass do not regularly attend church there. Luna has lived in Victoria for 30 years. He heard about the accident through news outlets and felt compelled to pay his respects to the deceased who went through the same struggle he did so many years ago.
"It's unfortunate that they lose their lives in the process," said Maria Nunez, a Victoria lawyer who specializes in immigration.
"They have no family here, they have no one. We, the community, have to stand up and embrace them," said Nunez, who doesn't attend that church regularly but grew up a few blocks away on Ozark Street.
As of Tuesday night, only the identity of the driver is known. Department of Public Safety Trooper Gerald Bryant said the driver of the extended cab pickup truck, Ricardo Mendoza-Pineda, 22, was the only Mexican resident in the vehicle.
The eight survivors are in such critical condition they are unable to speak, including the surviving children. DPS investigator Sgt. Jonathon Christian and his department are leading the investigation, but have been unsuccessful in identifying many of those involved in the wreck because they did not have identification.
The Mexican, Honduran, and Guatemalan consulates are working to assist the families of the deceased and the survivors of the crash.
"I'm really saddened to see we are here today for this reason when their families probably have no idea that this has even happened," Nunez said. "Everybody wants to be united with their loved ones. You have to have closure. These families deserve closure."
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