After the vigil, the remembrances, the tales of heroism recounted, what remains is the sorrow.
On a blustery, bright morning in El Monte, the friends and family of Adrian Castro came together at the Church of the Nativity to say goodbye to the 19-year-old, who died earlier this month in a traffic accident in Northern California.
"We are gathered today in grief and sadness for our brother, Adrian," said Father Beto Villalobos.
Adrian, a senior at El Monte High School, had joined other students for a spring tour of Humboldt State University when their charter
Nearly 300 people filled the church. Most wore some shade of royal blue, the color of Adrian's high school team. Lapel ribbons, commemorating his life, had been passed out.
They had come to the church the night before to say the Rosary and, afterward, to share their memories.
"Adrian got inside your heart, and he stayed there," said Wendy Wilson, 69, who has known the family for more than 20 years and recounted taking Adrian and his parents to his first Dodgers game when the boy was a year old.
Angel Gonzalez, 18, recalled how he first met Adrian. They were both Lions, playing football for El Monte High School. Gonzalez was a running back; Adrian was a cornerback who one day hoped to study sports medicine. He had been accepted at
Gonzalez told how Adrian played Rosa Parks for a school history project, but then Gonzalez's words tapered off.
"There is no more to say, but I'll be here forever," he said.
In the entryway, a poster had been set up with photographs showing a handsome young man with the look of a boy still in his eyes. On another occasion, the inscription might have served as dedications in a yearbook, with cursive letters dotted with hearts and one with a gothic slant as if it were a tag.
Caaastro!! Love you bro. Everyone is missing you down here. you won't be forgotten. UR a real 1.
Rest in peace I'm going to miss you in first period. You will forever be in my heart. One day when we meet again we will wear our cowgirl/boy boots.
You will always be in our hearts. Your beautiful smile will always brighten my day. You laugh will always be music to my ears. I'll keep you in my [heart] forever.
Words spoken, a line formed in the church's center aisle, an opportunity to share private condolences with the mother and father as well as Adrian's younger brothers, Roman, 16, and Solan, 10, who at times casually placed his arm upon the casket.
On Friday evening, rain was falling as cars drove away.
Saturday morning was clear, swept by gray and silver clouds, and Villalobos' homily began with a reading from the Gospel of John, in which Martha reproaches Jesus for not being present at the time her brother, Lazarus, died.
"She was upset," the priest explained. "She was angry. She had questions. Probably the same questions you have this morning. Probably the same anger you have this morning."
But, as Villalobos reminded them, Jesus makes no excuses. He does not try to explain why Lazarus died. It is a moment to test Martha's faith.
"When tragedy happens such as the death of Adrian and those other four students who were killed and the adults, it challenges our faith," Villalobos said. "It makes us think: Where is the Lord in all of this?"
More than two weeks have passed since the accident, and for days soon after, images of the wreckage and burning vehicles played in the media. A report released by the
Even though there are questions, Villalobos said, they are distractions from matters of faith and the promise of resurrection.
"If we only focus on the why, we miss out on the faith aspect," he said. "You need to ask yourself what would Adrian say to you at this moment. Probably don't focus in on the death. Focus in on the life we shared. Focus in on the life we had."
At school, Adrian was known as Castrezy, the Beast and Man of the Year, a nickname taken from his favorite song by the rap singer ScHoolboy Q, whose lyrics celebrate a more libidinous life than found in church.
It's a party over here
Shake it for the man of the year
Uh ma-man of the year
Adrian also played baseball and soccer, said his friend Gonzalez, and was looking forward to the World Cup. His interest in kinesiology came from sports.
"He liked that because it would help him stay active and healthy," said Gonzalez, "but most importantly, he wanted to help people."
When the homily ended, Roman and Solan carried the offerings of bread and wine to the priest, and after Communion, he sprinkled holy water on the casket, symbolic of baptism, and scented the air with incense, symbolic of the soul's journey.
"I have no words to say how I feel," Soriano said. "It's been a dream."
The dream blurred with grief. With the church bell tolling, the cortege wound its way to Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. Friends and family, surrounded by Easter decorations and whirligigs beside the graves near the cemetery's far end, circled the mound of dirt and the hole in the ground.
"No, no, no," said Adrian's grandmother, her words muffled by the handkerchief she held to her mouth, as the pallbearers — Adrian's teammates — carried the coffin to its podium.
"Grant him the inheritance promised to all your saints," Villalobos said.
Released white doves soared overhead, and Soriano leaned to the casket to whisper through her tears a final goodbye to her son. Castro held Solan, and Roman put an arm around his mother.
Released blue and white balloons dotted the sky like confetti. The casket was lowered, and with his jacket off, his shirt sleeves rolled up, Castro picked up a shovel and began to toss dirt on top. Other men joined him, and their work proceeded with a stoic determination, as if they were doing a favor for Adrian as they might do on any other day.
With the casket covered, Adrian's teammates recited a prayer and a cheer. It is what they always did before a game.