HOLTVILLE – Catholic clergy have led the prayers at makeshift memorials for the departed souls of the 13 Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants who died in a horrific collision on March 2, one of the deadliest border crashes on record.
Authorities suspect the crash, which left 12 passengers gravely injured, occurred after an overfilled SUV ran a stop sign and was struck by a 2-trailer semi-truck. It occurred at the intersection of Highway 115 and Norrish Road, about 4 miles away from Holtville, east of El Centro.
All 25 in the SUV are suspected of having crossed the border illegally about 30 miles east of Holtville, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
A makeshift memorial with wooden crosses, decorated signs, flowers, and Catholic saint candles popped up at the accident site. Smaller memorials have cropped up in the other three corners of the site.
Father Edward Horning, pastor of the Catholic Communities of Brawley & Westmorland, led a service for the victims two days after the crash. He guided a short liturgy of commendation for the deceased at Potter’s Field, a graveyard in Holtville where unidentified migrants are buried, then at the main makeshift memorial.
“The accident is a terrible tragedy,” Father Horning said. “We lift up in prayer those who have died, pray for the families, and feel the urgency to move our country towards a just and humane immigration reform.”
He has shared news about the crash on his Facebook page, @EdwardHorning, which has carried prayer services live.
Deacon Marcos Lopez, of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Brawley, visited the site on March 7 after Sunday Mass and said “it was like a special day of mourning.”
On March 10, a small caravan of San Diego-based activists traveled from Chicano Park in Barrio Logan to the crash site to join mourners from the valley, including Deacon Lopez and other deacons, for a Liturgy of the Word service. The activists were from Gente Unida, a nonprofit organization dedicated to humane immigration reform.
“I feel the pain of these people,” Deacon Lopez said at the service. “Until the end of my time in this life, I will pray for them every day.”
“We really do need prayer, especially for these souls to make it home to God in His heavenly kingdom,” he said.
The activists from Gente Unida held another event at the site on March 17.
The founder of Gente Unida is a longtime border activist, Enrique Morones, who was a classmate of Father Horning at St. Augustine High School.
“We have got to remember – whether we’re in the Imperial Valley or wherever we’re at – that this type of situation is happening all over the world,” Morones said.
“Every life is important,” he continued, “so we wanted to honor these people … and remember that they’re human beings that simply wanted to have a better life.”