Jose Angel Garibay, the first serviceman from Orange County to die in the Iraq War, had a dream for his mother: to buy her a home.
The Marine corporal's family received $250,000 in life insurance after he was killed in 2003. They bought a house in Santa Ana later that year, putting down $138,000 for a modest place in a quiet neighborhood.
But times have been tough for the Garibays.
Simona, the family's mother and sole breadwinner, trusted too many people through the years.
The 59-year-old from Jalisco, Mexico, gave a friend $70,000 to open an account for her at a local credit union.
The account never saw the light of day.
The Garibays are $7,500 behind on three months' worth of mortgage payments. Crystal Garibay, 25, moved back from Phoenix a few months ago to help make ends meet.
"I told my mother that I will take any job," Crystal said. "If I have to take the bus to work, I'm going to. But we have to save the house."
The car the family bought a few years ago is no longer drivable, she said. Her mother walks or uses public transportation to get to Western Medical Center on Tustin Avenue, where she works as a housekeeper.
The family identified the woman who swindled them only as "Julia."
They say Julia worked in real estate and gained their trust over several years.
Alexander Madrigal, 44, a friend of the family, marches the street in full military regalia to honor Jose.
The Marine, who served in the Gulf War, said he's trying his best to help the family, but that he stays away from the financial aspects of their hard-luck case.
"Here's a mother who's working for $11 an hour at a hospital and needs some help," Madrigal said. "We're not talking about dishing out big bucks. We're talking about helping her fix her car, if it's a lemon, or helping her paint her house."
Simona is a "gold star" mother, Madrigal noted.
"Where is everybody now? When her son first died, people were everywhere, helping out and handing out awards," he said. "Now they're nowhere to be found."
The Costa Mesa Police Department made Jose an honorary officer after his death. He had plans to join the department after his military service, the family said.
Jose, a Newport Harbor High School alumnus, enlisted in the Marine Corps shortly after his graduation in 2000.
Born in Mexico and brought here when he was 2 months old, he posthumously was granted American citizenship under a movement to amend the immigration status of foreigners serving in the U.S. military. His mother also became a U.S. citizen under the same program.
But status is doing little to help the family's situation.
"She needs her community to come forward to help her, just as our nation needed her child to respond to the call," Madrigal said.
Jose was buried at the Riverside National Cemetery with full military honors. He was 21. Crystal has a 1-year-old boy, Angel, named after his honored uncle.
In their yard, the family remembers Jose with a shrine they built.
Beginning this week, Madrigal, along with members of Military Mothers and the United Mexican-American Veterans Assn., will lead a candlelight vigil in front of the Garibay residence every Sunday and Wednesday.
"Here we are, not only burying our brothers, but watching our mothers struggle. It was Angel Garibay's dream that his mother would own a home," Madrigal said. "This is adding more fire to this family's pain."