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Community remembers loss of 19 immigrant lives

By JR Ortega
May 18, 2013 at 12:18 a.m.
Updated May 20, 2013 at 12:20 a.m.

Dora Torres, center, attends a Spanish Mass in memorial of the 19 immigrants who died in a tractor-trailer 10 years ago. Torres' son, Jorge Torres, 15, was one of the immigrants who died.

Remembering the deceased

• Rogelio Dominguez

• Marco Villasenor

• Oscar Gonzalez

• Jose Villasenor

• Roberto Rivera

• Augusto Stanley

• Serafin Rivera

• Chava Benitez

• Juan C. Castillo

• Jose L. Ramirez

• Juan Jose Morales

• Edgar Hernandez

• Ricardo Gonzalez

• Elisendo Cabanas

• Catalino Gonzalez

• Jorge Torres

• Mateo Salgado

• Jose Figueroa

• Hector Ramirez

Dora Torres squints, staring sharply at sun-faded ceramic Catholic ornamentation and chipped wooden crosses.

This is the Houston mother's only solace - the remnants of a makeshift shrine, memorializing 19 immigrants found dead in a tractor-trailer that reached 170 degrees on a hot day in May 2003.

Torres' 15-year-old son Jorge Torres was one of the 19.

His life and the lives of the 18 others were remembered at noon Saturday as a group of about 30 people celebrated a Spanish Mass at the site, which is on Fleming Prairie Road off U.S. Highway 77 in Victoria County.

Tuesday marked a decade since their deaths, and the pain is just as heart-wrenching as the day she learned about her son's death, Torres said.

"I've come every year," the soft-spoken 49-year-old said in Spanish. "I will keep coming every year as long as I'm alive. It's something someone does not just forget."

The truck was en route from South Texas to Houston. The truck driver stopped at a convenience store on Fleming Prairie Road, disconnected and unlocked the trailer and continued on to Houston.

Torres, of El Salvador, was living in New York at the time of his death and later moved to Houston to be closer to her son's final resting place.

"You never feel better about it," she said. "The memory can never be erased. Never. Ever."

The Rev. Adolfo Marroquin with Our Lady of Sorrows lead the Mass. He walked and prayed and blessed the crowd with holy water, refreshing not only their spirits but their bodies from the 90-degree heat.

This memorial isn't only about 19 who died, Marroquin said. It's about the issue of immigrants in search of a better life.

"The United States is a country built of immigrants," Marroquin said in Spanish.

Marroquin said he hopes his words continue to bring peace to those affected, though he is aware the pain never goes away.

"It's a pain that's very hard but that the grace of God can help with," he said. "The pain will always be there, but these families' lives will continue."

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