My last text to her, on May 5, said, “Thanks. Look forward to meeting you.” Her reply: “I am too. Thank you for this opportunity.”
The meeting never happened. Luciana Tellez died on the night of May 19, killed along with two of her best friends when a wrong-way driver ran head-on into their car on Interstate 5 near Rice Hill.
Luciana’s death meant she wouldn’t be at the Oregon Community Foundation office at 5:30 p.m. May 22 to interview for a Rotary college scholarship. It meant that she and her friends, Gisselle Montaño and Esmeralda Nava, won’t walk across the Eagle Point High School football field this Friday night to receive their diplomas.
Instead, a small group of Rotarians held a moment of silence at 5:30 p.m. May 22. Instead, family, friends, classmates and strangers gathered on the football field and in the bleachers on Tuesday to mourn and celebrate the too-short lives of the young women.
When kids grow up and go off to college or to a new start elsewhere, they take a little piece of your heart with them. When they die before even getting that chance, it tears your heart from your chest, even if you didn’t know them well.
I didn’t know Luciana well. What I knew about her was contained in the six pages of a scholarship application. With her parents’ permission, I want to share some of those details.
She was a strong student, 19th in her class of 254 seniors, with a 3.82 grade point average and plans to attend Oregon State to become a fitness and nutrition coach or specialist. That’s a glimpse of the student; her list of activities tells you more about Luciana the person.
She was on the Eagles soccer team, was a Link leader who helped introduce incoming freshmen to the school and was a mentor for those freshmen at the week-long Eagles camp.
She also mentored third-grade students in reading and seemed particularly taken with a third-grader named Sophia who welcomed her to the grade school with a hug.
“I will never forget the first time I heard Sophia read her first sentence,” she wrote in her application, “and I am grateful for every day that I get to spend making a difference in the lives of those children.”
She babysat her siblings and cousins, volunteered at her church and worked at fast-food restaurants. She saw her brother fight a battle with drugs and her family deal with immigration issues. She said those struggles made her even more determined to succeed.
“I wanted to show my mom those straight A’s, to give her something to be proud of,” she wrote. She did just that, earning straight A’s in four terms, even as she was taking advanced placement classes in several subjects.
Luciana knew personal heartache and found the strength to overcome it. “I could keep going even when my heart was torn apart,” she wrote. “ ... I had learned a lesson, that we should never take anything for granted because it could be taken away at any moment.”
I didn’t know Luciana, and know even less about Gisselle and Esmeralda, but I do know their lives were no less precious and the end of their lives no less tragic. Their stories touched us, as evidenced by the tremendous outpouring of support and donations to the three families from people and organizations across the valley.
Their lives were important and they mattered. And they were taken from their families and friends, in the blink of a moment. We can’t make sense of it, we can only embrace the words of Luciana and hope that they, too, can keep going even when their hearts are torn apart.
Bob Hunter is associate editor of the Mail Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.