Hundreds of mourners attended funeral services Saturday in Orange County for three 13-year-old girls who were killed while trick-or-treating Halloween night in Santa Ana.
Family and friends gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Ana for a Spanish-language Mass held for twin sisters Lexi and Lexandra Perez, whose matching white caskets were adorned with roses and pink carnations. Many of those in attendance were dressed in white, as the family had requested.
During the Mass, Rev. Marlon Beof spoke about “how our experiences tell us that life is temporary.”
“My message is that people should be thankful for those 13 years” with the twins, he told mourners, “to be grateful for the gifts they shared, and just keep on loving.”
Lexi and Lexandra and their friend Andrea Gonzalez were struck about 6:45 p.m. Oct. 31 by a driver “going at a high rate of speed” while they were in a crosswalk in the area of Old Grand Street and Fairhaven Avenue, police said.
All were declared dead at the scene.
Jaquinn Bell, 31, who fled the scene after ditching his Honda SUV in a nearby parking lot, was arrested two days later in connection with the incident, authorities said. He was convicted of hit-and-run and drunk driving in a separate incident just two months earlier and was behind the wheel even though his license had been suspended, court records show.
After Saturday’s service for the twins, Tiffany Lam, Lexandra’s eighth-grade science teacher at Portola Middle School in Orange, described her as “such a spirited young girl, someone eager to help her friends any way she can. She was chatty, thoughtful, a delight.”
Portola Principal Jill Katevas and several teachers stood in a semicircle after the Mass outside the church, one by one embracing the twins’ mother, who wore a white lace dress.
“There are no words to describe the pain we’re going through. How do we handle something like this?” said the girls’ uncle, who identified himself only as Jaime L.
As pallbearers carried the girls’ coffins out to a waiting hearse, a family member released three white balloons into the sky for the three girls.
Services were held a short time later for Andrea Gonzalez at Holy Family Cathedral in nearby Orange. Mourners wore purple shirts, ties and ribbons because purple was Andrea’s favorite color.
Her mother, Maria Gonzalez, sat with other family members in the front row and sobbed quietly, slowly shaking her head throughout the service, her arms crossed tightly around her chest.
Monsignor Douglas Cook spoke directly to many of Andrea’s classmates from Santiago Charter Middle School, recounting how his father died suddenly when he was 12 years old. He said his mother told him to mow the lawn the day of the funeral because they were expecting guests.
Cook said he thought it was an odd request at the time but he started pushing the lawn mower and realized later that the chore had helped him cope with his loss.
“So keep pushing, keep pushing forward,” Cook told the mourners.
Outside the church, family friend Jorge Alvarado described Andrea as a quiet, loving and studious girl who was usually doing her homework when he stopped by the Gonzalez house to visit. He said he was moved by the number of people who attended the service.
“It’s nice to see the community come out and to know there are people out there that actually care,” Alvarado said. “This has been really hard on all of her friends from school.”
Eddy Balderas, 13, wearing a light purple long-sleeve shirt, said he had taken classes with Andrea. At first, he said, he refused to believe she had died when students started posting “RIP Andrea” on social media.
“This is the closest person I’ve ever lost,” he said.
Later at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Andrea’s siblings held each other close, as tears streamed down her father’s cheeks. Maria Gonzalez sobbed as she clutched a gold cross that earlier had been placed on her daughter’s casket.
Mourners wrote messages on cards attached to purple balloons before releasing them into the morning sky.
Andrea’s mother, her hand trembling, hung on to her balloon a moment longer before finally letting go.