Goliad residents attend teen immigrant's funeral

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Aug. 22, 2012 at 3:22 a.m.
Updated Aug. 23, 2012 at 3:23 a.m.

The casket of Juana Tiniguar-Aguilar is wheeled into Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at the start of the funeral service.

The casket of Juana Tiniguar-Aguilar is wheeled into Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at the start of the funeral service.   Todd Krainin for The Victoria Advocate

GOLIAD - Standing near a photo display of Juana Tiniguar-Aguilar on Wednesday morning, Luz Elena Portillo gripped a spiral-bound funeral guest book.

Portillo studied the photos of the 17-year-old Guatemalan - a stranger she'd met in passing about a month ago, when Juana died in a one-vehicle wreck on U.S. Highway 59.

"Es triste," she said in Spanish, which translates, "It is so sad."

Portillo and her four children walked down the aisle of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and laid flowers and balloons at the base of the altar.

"They are for all of them; for all the people involved in the wreck," she said, referring to the 23 illegal immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala who were in the process of being smuggled from Mexico to Houston.

About 6:30 p.m. on July 22, the 2000 Ford F-250 they were riding in veered off the road and struck a tree at 70 mph. Fifteen died, eight were injured.

Juana was among the six passengers riding inside the cab who died on impact, according to a Department of Public Safety crash report.

Portillo said she and her husband, Rubin Portillo, were driving to Beeville when they noticed the truck, and bodies scattered on the highway.

"We stopped to help, but there were so many of them. My husband was going around telling the ones who were alive to keep breathing, and letting them know help is on the way," Portillo said. "People were asking for help, but others were already dead. We couldn't do nothing for them."

Since the wreck, Portillo said she and her husband have not emotionally recovered.

"He has not slept well since it happened," she said. "He couldn't come to the funeral today because it would be too hard for him."

Holding the book, tears welling in her eyes, Portillo promised to write a note to Juana's parents offering her condolences to the family. Juana's parents could not afford the trip from Guatemala to Texas. Her body and the guest book are scheduled to be shipped from Houston to Guatemala on Thursday.

Had she not been identified only days before her funeral, she would have been buried as an unknown immigrant.

Portillo, an immigrant from Mexico who came to the United States when she was 10 years old, said she understands Juana's motives for leaving her country.

"It is so poor, that country," she said. "I know how hard it can be."

About 40 people attended Juana's funeral Wednesday, which was organized by Victoria Mortuary and Cremation Services owner Adrian Fulton and Immaculate Conception priest, the Rev. Ralph Baidoo.

"It is our spiritual responsibility to take care of her," Baidoo said. "This has opened my eyes that someone would come so far in search of a good life. And she did not make it."

Juana's 18-gauge red tone casket was donated by Fulton, and the shipping expenses to return her body to Guatemala were picked up by the Guatemalan Consulate, Fulton said.

Portillo said she will continue to pray for the family, and was honored to represent them in their absence.

"Since her family could not be here, I wanted to come for them," Portillo said. "I know it's hard for the families, I know what they go through. We represent them."



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