Clayton Elder, rector with St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, said this is what prompted him to schedule a memorial service in the small community at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Moya’s Restaurant.
“(The community’s) wish was that we would do some type of ground blessing and memorial service at the site to bring healing to those who were lost and those who were wounded and those in the community affected by it,” he said.
Elder said that they will typically hold a church service on the last Sunday of the month at the restaurant, but the events this past weekend prompted the need for this additional service.
“It would be two weeks before we got out there,” he said. “That is too far away. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to do it then.”
The one-vehicle wreck occurred Sunday at about 6:30 p.m. on U.S. Highway 59 just north of Berclair.
According to Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Glenn Garrett, a 2000 Ford F-250 pickup was traveling northbound with 23 occupants when it lost control, swerved toward the right off the highway and struck a tree.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements spokesman Greg Palmore, 11 men and three females died. Among them were citizens of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
“This tragedy is one that stretches beyond borders,” Elder said. “It doesn’t matter what their status in life was.”
First and foremost, Elder said, the service is for those who died.
“It is honor them and remember them... and to pray to God that their souls rest in peace,” he said.
Beyond that, it is also for those that saw firsthand the horrors.
“To see such death on such a scale has to be affecting on their souls,” he said. “This is to give some type of comfort, some type of closure.”
And finally, Sunday’s service is for the community members who felt a tie to those who died.
“Berclair is a largely Hispanic community, and those who perished there were Hispanic.”
This same ethnic tie is what prompted Father Stan DeBoe with Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Victoria to hold a memorial service Tuesday evening at his Victoria church.
“Many in our congregation are new immigrants, and there is a great solidarity with people coming from Latin America,” he said. “Many of our people came over here seeking opportunity themselves.
“We just feel like they died here and they are now a part of our community.”
DeBoe said that his goal for the service was to provide some comfort to his congregation who feel this tie.
“I know some people have gone out to the site to pray,” he said. “This is a chance for them to express their grief for the families they may never meet and to offer that spiritual help we can provide.”
This tragedy is a reminder of events only 45 minutes away in Victoria that took the lives of 19 illegal immigrants back in May 2003.
In all, 70 illegal immigrants were in the trailer being smuggled from South Texas to Houston.
The trailer was found abandoned, with the people still inside, at a truck stop.
Those found dead ranged in age from 6 to 91 years old.
The driver in that case was sentenced to life in prison.
Every year, DeBoe and his congregation gather at that site, along with the Mexican consulate, to remember those who died.
“We may not know any of them,” he said describing both tragedies. “But they are a part of who we are here.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.