Goliad High School comes together to mourn the loss of one of its own

April Villarreal drew the word "love" on teacher KimAnn England's board on Friday. The Goliad High School junior was killed in a wreck on Sunday.
  • Honoring Abril's memory

  • The students and faculty will also gather at 9 a.m. Thursday in the high school stadium for a balloon release in her memory.

    The cheerleaders will wear a black stripe on their uniforms next year, and they won't find a ...

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  • Honoring Abril's memory

    The students and faculty will also gather at 9 a.m. Thursday in the high school stadium for a balloon release in her memory.

    The cheerleaders will wear a black stripe on their uniforms next year, and they won't find a replacement mascot.

Standing before the students and faculty of Goliad High School, Principal Emilio Vargas III worked hard to control his emotions as he confirmed the news that Abril Villarreal, 17, had died in a traffic wreck during the weekend.

"It was one of the hardest moments of my life," Vargas said.

Goliad High School has dealt with tragedy before, and even as he stood before the students on Monday, struggling to control his emotions, Vargas knew they would face this the same way they would face everything - together.

Most people had heard about the wreck that occurred about six miles outside Beeville at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Abril was one of seven people riding in a 2002 Ford Explorer headed north on U.S. Highway 181 when the driver, Juan Salazar, 17, of Beeville, reportedly fell asleep. Salazar lost control of the vehicle, which rolled five times before coming to rest, ejecting five of the passengers.

Villarreal died at the scene. Benjamin Rodriguez, 17, of Beeville, died Monday evening in a Corpus Christi hospital.

Two other passengers in the car, Elizabeth Dorantes, 16, and Kayla Warren, 16, were also from Goliad.

News of the wreck moved through the student body soon after it happened.

"We are a remarkably close campus with our staff and our students. There were a lot of rumors going around and we wanted to let the students know exactly what was happening," Vargas said.

Nothing ever prepares an administrator to deal with this kind of tragedy, Vargas said, but he quickly decided to have an assembly to tell students exactly what happened. There were all kinds of rumors going around, and the faculty wanted to dispel them as quickly as possible, he said. It was also a way to begin honoring Villarreal.

"It was out of respect to the victim, and to her classmates that I wanted to bring everyone together for this," Vargas said.

Teacher KimAnn England said the room was silent when Vargas confirmed Abril's death.

"It was silent in there. You could hear a pin drop," England said.

Vargas had counselors from across the district gathered to help any students who might need to talk. He also gathered local ministers for the assembly. At its close, one of the ministers led the group in an optional prayer for Abril and the other victims of the crash.

Abril, known as "April" to her friends, was a student who got along with everyone. She was known for her sense of humor, and she was set to be one of two school mascots next year. But her art was what she took the most pride in, England said.

"She wrote that on her class introduction form at the beginning of the school year, 'What I'm most proud of is the fact that most people know me by how well I draw,'" England said.

Abril was thrilled when England told her that her T-shirt design had been chosen for the American Sign Language summer camp at Goliad High School. Now, England said the students will wear the shirts in honor of her.

Abril drew whenever she could. England came back to school on Monday to find the word "love" written on the classroom board, emblazoned with colorful markings - Abril's handiwork.

"She may not physically be there with us but the love is there. Even the kids who didn't know her have been wonderful about supporting the ones who did," she noted.

Brittany Campbell, 17, was a close friend of Abril. She tried to attend the assembly, but couldn't because she was crying so hard it made her sick. Since her friend's death, Brittany said she has been impressed with the response of her fellow students. Even people who she doesn't know have made a point of approaching her to let her know they are there for her.

The truth is still sinking in though, Brittany said.

"It's really hard. I've never lost anyone before and its really challenging. I haven't accepted any of it yet. I just feel like she's just playing a joke on us still," Brittany said.

Standing before the students, Vargas said he was careful not to talk about his memories of Abril, who he has known since she was in fifth grade.

"Even in middle school she was so proud of her art work. She'd come show me the comic strips she was drawing and the funny things she would come up with," Vargas said.

The students have also been reaching out to Elizabeth Dorantes and Kayla Warren. Kayla was released from the hospital on Sunday night with a shattered foot, Vargas said.

Students have been taking turns going by her house to check on her, England said.

Elizabeth is still in the intensive care unit at University Medical in San Antonio, Vargas said.

Elizabeth is running for student body president and the student running against her dropped out of the race on Tuesday out of respect for what Elizabeth is going through, England said.

England said this is just how Goliad High School is.

"I've taught a lot of places, and I've never seen a school come together and support each other like this," she said.

Vargas agreed.

"It runs deep with us. We're a family. When we lose someone, we are a family, and we may not always get along but we respect one another and we love one another and at the end of the day, we take care of each other."