May 14, 2003 on U.S. Highway 77:
Memorial keeps alive memory of 19 immigrants
Dora Torres pressed her lips firmly together as she stared down at the framed picture of her son, Jorge.
On May 14, 2003, the 15-year-old from El Salvador was found dead, along with 18 other illegal immigrants, in the back of a tractor-trailer abandoned next to the Speedy Stop, then known as Chubby’s, alongside U.S. Highway 77.
Torres had no idea her son was in the United States until she was watching a television news report of the event.
The wind moved the sheet and she saw the shoes she had mailed to him peeking out. She thought it might be him and faxed in a picture to confirm it.
He had left his home in El Salvador to try to find his mother.
Torres and about 20 other people attended the eighth annual memorial service for the victims at noon Saturday.
Trucks roared by, causing Marta Haolvera, the event organizer, to raise her voice to be heard as she read off the name of each victim.
Haolvera was horrified when she learned of the deaths eight years ago, she said.
“I was so angry, angry at the government, angry at the coyotes that did this. Mostly I was angry at the coyotes, because they did this for money and it hurts our people,” Haolvera said.
She helps organize the memorial so people won’t forget them, and the dangers of human trafficking and abuse that can occur.
“It’s important to remember because this shows how the immigrants can suffer,” she said.
Domiciano Aldape said he attends the memorial to make sure people don’t forget the people who died and the dangers people like them face trying to come to the United States.
“We need to show people about the violence and the criminal activities that occur when people try to do this,” Aldape said.
Torres kept her face blank as a deacon read from the Bible and people stood up to speak.
The makeshift memorial is worn now, and the fake flowers, the crosses draped in rosaries, show signs of wear and tear from the elements.
Torres placed a bouquet of new scarlet silk roses and yellow sunflowers next to her son’s grinning picture, its colors faded by the sun.
“I came to remember him,” Torres said in Spanish. “He died here. Being here makes me feel closer to him.”
A Victoria committee called Federación Potosina maintains the memorial for the 19 undocumented immigrants who died on Fleming Prairie Road. They keep flowers fresh and add to the clothing, candles, notes and more that mark where the men, women and children died. Also posted is a list of their names and available ages:
Jose Felicito Figueroa Gutierrez
Catarino Gonzalez Merino
Mateo Salgado Perez
Chelve Benitez Jaramillo
Rogelio Dominguez Benitez
Hector Ramirez Robles, 34
Jorge Mauricio Torres Herrera, 15
Roberto Rivera Gámez, 24
Serafin Rivera Gámez, 34
Elisendo Cabanas González, 27
Marco Antonio Villaseñor Acuña, 5
José Antonio Villaseñor Acuña, 31
Edgar Gabriel Hernández Zúñiga, 17
Juan Carlos Castillo Loredo, 20
Ricardo González Mata, 24
Oscar González Guerrero, 18
José Luis Ramirez Bravo, 21
Juan José Morales, 24
Augusto Stanley Vargas, 31