TEMECULA — It was going to be Gloria Murillo's first big story for El Remate, the budding Spanish-language shopper she had worked at for four months.
As she roamed the gory crash site outside Temecula Valley High School, Murillo managed to squelch fears for her own teen-agers, Little Gloria and Jose, who had left for class two hours earlier.
Murillo had scribbled down the details in her notebook: The Border Patrol had chased a stolen van, crammed with a dozen illegal immigrants, off a freeway that morning. As tardy students scurried onto campus, the van screamed through a red light at 80 m.p.h. and sheared in half an Acura carrying three people. Then the van skidded sideways across the intersection and plowed into two students on the sidewalk, tossing them into a fence and a tree.
While coroners "wrapped the bodies," she dogged officers for names of the dead, hoping, she said, "to scoop the other reporters."
Murillo pressed for more information. "I kept asking this officer, 'Was it a boy and a girl?' " she recalls. "I was looking around for their papers and things."
The policeman just kept measuring skid marks. Murillo persisted, but the officer curtly dismissed her until she admitted she now was asking as a parent.
"He looked at me, and he says, 'Who are you looking for?' " she remembers. "And my (press) badge was turned over, and I said, 'I'm Gloria Gomez Murillo.'
"He just came to me with open arms. And I kept saying, 'No! . . . No! \o7 Which one \f7 is hurt?' He put his arms around me. Then I wanted to know, were my babies in pieces?
"I started to scream at that point and fall, and I remember looking into the faces of all these cops, these firemen and men who had seen this kind of thing before. They were all crying with me."
Now almost six weeks later, Temecula grieves for the victims of the horrid June 2 crash outside its high school, a crash that has galvanized the Riverside County town like little before. A parent, four students and a 22-year-old van passenger from rural Mexico died, once again raising cries and questions about the value of high-speed chases to secure a nation's border.
At the school, teams of therapists counseled as many as 800 students--including eyewitnesses--in the three days after the tragedy. A handful of students were suicidal and some never returned to class before the school year ended. The city of 35,000 has sued the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service in an attempt to ban Border Patrol chases through town. And the outpouring of love and financial support by hundreds of mostly anonymous individuals has overwhelmed the suffering families.
"What people have done for us there, well, it's amazing," says Murillo. "They helped me bury my kids."
That the victims came from such diverse backgrounds and represented every high school class compounded the tragedy, school psychologist Joe Stradley says, because virtually every corner of the community has been touched.
The Murillo kids--Little Gloria, 17, and Jose, 16--knew what it meant to be poor. As their single mother sometimes worked two jobs but refused to go on welfare, some days they went without lunch, some weeks without milk, so Little Gloria's 2-year-old son, Anthony, could be fed. Nobody told them to; the teen-agers would eyeball the refrigerator then mix themselves Kool-Aid until mom's payday.
John Davis, who drove the Acura, was the respected 46-year-old manager of First Interstate Bank's branch in Hemet. Conservative and athletic, he loved golf and basketball, and spent long hours as the top fund-raiser for Temecula's home for abused children. But longtime pals said family always came first. Proud and private, he only hinted at occasional conflicts with his teen-age son, they say, but devoted great energy to the relationship.
An only child, ever-grinning Todd Davis was a heavy metal fan, his bedroom papered with rock posters and scantily clad models. The high school senior had periodically worried his parents with bad report cards and "typical teen-age rebellious stuff," his mother Linda says, but recent months had found him in church and back on track.
Sweet-spirited freshman Monisa Emilio, one of four children in a working-class family, was a candy-striper who donated her baby-sitting wages to support a starving Third World child. The Emilios had followed construction work to Northern California but took a 60% income cut to move back last fall because the kids missed Temecula so much.
The price was living in a cramped apartment, Stephanie Emilio said, but her daughter Monisa "was the only one who didn't complain. She and Todd were alike, very happy." Monisa's older sister, Tina, was Todd's girlfriend.
Little is known about the sixth victim, 22-year-old Eniceforo Vargas Gomez. He was a passenger in the runaway Chevy Suburban and had boarded with 11 others in San Ysidro that morning after evidently paying smugglers to deliver them to the United States.