By 7:30 p.m. Sunday evening, Burns Park in White City was awash with people dressed in white — a tight circle of grief.
Some mourners clung to each other like survivors of a shipwreck. Teenagers with red eyes wound their way to their friends. Children, blissfully unaware of the reason they had been brought there, chased each other and called for their distracted parents’ attention.
At the center of the circle of people prayer candles were placed in the grass, framing portraits of the three young local victims of a deadly crash on Interstate 5 that claimed four lives in total on the night of May 19.
Luciana Tellez, Giselle Montano and Esmeralda Nava had all been seniors just weeks away from graduating from Eagle Point High School. But the crowd of vigil-keepers made it clear that they had been more — they were friends, teammates and daughters, belonging to and beloved by a community spanning various languages and backgrounds.
In life they spent much of their time together, statements from friends attested to.
“If you saw one of them,” said a classmate who spoke at the vigil, “you saw three.”
Tellez, Montaño and Nava had also been together Saturday night, when a red Acura Integra driving ahead of them on southbound I-5 north of Rice Hill turned around and drove back north in the same lane — hitting the Nissan Murano the three young women were riding home in.
Both cars exploded into flame, and although other drivers removed two passengers from the Nissan, all four people involved were killed by their injuries, an initial release from the Oregon State Police said.
OSP said it is unknown why the Acura’s driver began traveling north in the southbound lane. Anyone with information about the vehicle prior to the crash is asked to call 541-440-3333.
The community the three students left behind was still reeling visibly with shock over their deaths Sunday evening. Eagle Point High School opened its doors and counselors stood available from 4 to 6 p.m.; Casey Olmstead, a counselor at the high school, said about eight to 10 people showed up to talk and process.
The vigil drew dozens more than that. Those who came stood attentive as they were led through the “Misterios Dolorosos,” or “Sorrowful Mysteries,” a segment of the rosary that reflects on the trials in the life of Jesus Christ. Sobbing temporarily subsided in the diligent repetition of prayer.
Later, friends and family shared personal stories and repeatedly thanked those who came to honor Tellez, Montaño and Nava. The crowd sang traditional religious songs to guitar music and one speaker led the crowd in cries of “Que viva!” commemorating that each girl had lived and impacted the community gathered in Burns Park.
“Rest in peace, my three beautiful angels,” another friend said. “May you never, never, never be forgotten.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.