Crosses mark memorial to illegal immigrants killed
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BERCLAIR - Natalie Castillo, her mother, sister and cousins stood in front of the live oak trees, struggling against the wind to tie crosses of fake flowers to the barbed-wire fence. They talked softly to each other in Spanish, securing the crosses with lengths of carnation pink ribbon, one for each victim of the crash.
The flowers are vibrant colors, cherry red, bubble gum pink and tangerine, and sprinkled with gold glitter, the kind of thing sure to catch the eye from the road.
That's what Castillo and her family want. When people pass by this place, she's hoping they'll see 15 crosses and remember that 15 people were killed and eight were injured at this spot.
"It's something little that honors each of the people who died. We just wanted to pay our respects," Castillo said.
A pair of live oak trees stand close together just beyond the fence, bearing matching scars, raw and red, that single them out from all the other trees that line this stretch of highway leading to Goliad. Last Sunday, a white truck packed with illegal immigrants zoomed off the road and struck the trees, flinging many of the 23 people through open space and onto the ground, killing 15 men, women and children as young as 8 years old.
The trees were hit when the truck, going at least 75 mph, slammed into them on the side of U.S. Highway 59. A clutter of debris stretches through the ditch, tracing the vehicle's path.
Bits of broken glass, charred tire tread and rubber hose, a broken shard of a CD by Beto Quintanilla. Someone had picked up three socks - a black one crusted with dirt, a grimy white one and small pink and white one - and hung them on the line alongside the crosses and some bundles of fake flowers. A silver St. Christopher medal, the patron saint of travelers, dangled from one of the trees.
After hearing of the wreck, Castillo decided to do something to honor those who died. Her mother bought the crosses from a discount store and they drove out to this stretch of highway on Wednesday afternoon to put them up as a marker for each person killed.
"They wanted a better life. It's not easy to be legalized. People say that's what they should have done, but it's not an easy thing to do," she said, noting that it took her parents years to become American citizens.
Castillo and her family stood near the edge of the road, taking in their handiwork. The boys stopped playing and stood next to the fence, bowing their heads and whispering prayers they had learned in church while their mothers took cell phone pictures and smiled. The crosses made the spot impossible to miss from the road.
"These people don't have family here, no one to remember them. We're their family here, people like us, so we'll have to do it," Castillo's sister, Yessica Castillo, said.
A man with chin-length black hair stopped his truck and ran across the road, his brown work-boots clomping.
"They have any identification on them?" he called over the roar of traffic.
The women shook their heads.
He nodded, made a quick sign of the cross, and ran back across the road.
In the span of 30 minutes, cars continued to stop. A woman with a halo of black curls said they should have stayed where they were instead of trying to make a better life. A man who perched on the edge of the road, hands clasped. A couple who stared at the crosses from across the road, bowed their heads for a moment and then roared away.
Castillo watched people stopping before the crosses.
"They're humans just like anybody else, and they should be remembered," she said.
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