Normally i take the story you tell me and tell it the best way i can. But there are some stories you just do not touch.This is the story of Josie Herrera, as told by her Mother, Rae.
Hello My name is Rae I’m Josie’s Mom.
I knew you loved your children, I expected that, but what I didn’t expect was how much that love would transform me; when you become a mother your very soul changes. Your whole mind, body and soul are tied to that child. You would do anything, just to make her smile. You are no longer yourself, YOU ARE A MOTHER. There are millions of mothers and children out there but yet each pair is unique and irreplaceable. But what happens when a child dies? How does the mother go on without a piece of her heart and soul? This is our story.
I became a mother for the first time on September 1st, 1991. When I looked at that beautiful baby girl I knew she would have my heart forever. I named her Josephine Georgette Francisco Herrera. What a big name for such a little baby girl. I could tell you it took about two seconds for her to wrap her daddy around her little finger. I look back at our early years and I have so many memories. Josie brought so much joy to all our lives. I remember how she got Kix cereal stuck up her nose, how she put clip on earrings on her daddy when he took a nap, kissing her little feet before bed each night, how she would repeat every world I said that day and everything she did.
I guess so I wouldn’t forget, even though I was there for it all.
Boy, could that child talk – something that never changed. I had Josie for 19 years. 19 years to watch her grow to become a beautiful young woman. A girl who wanted to change the world, who wanted to give back not take. She always had a heart melting smile. I would look at her sometimes and think “how could this bright beautiful child come from me?”
Josie loved to dance, Hello kitty, Music, and soccer. Her favorite colors were purple and green; her favorite movie was “she’s the man,” favorite song was “love story.” Josie loved to laugh and joke, but was pretty timid. The thing I really loved about her was that everything was so exciting to her. You see we lived in Okinawa, Japan for six year prior to coming back to the states the year before. Everything was new to her, the clothes, malls, the flowers, the people – everything was a wonder. One of the big questions I ask myself is if Josie wasn’t so innocent and so over-protected maybe things would have been different? There are so many what ifs, so many regrets, so many whys.
If I would of only knew, what could I of done different. The weeks before her death I can say she was on top of the world.
You could just see how excited she was to go to college. I looked at her Facebook page and her iPod and more than once I saw her post I’m so happy today. We use to tease her about her always taking pictures of herself and her shoes. Why shoes? never figured that one out. Now I’m so grateful. All I have left are pictures and memories. I’m sitting here trying to describe her and there just aren’t any words. She was just so unique, she was ours. There was no greater joy then to have her as a daughter, and there is no deeper sorrow then to lose her.
I have two more children; Jess who is 18 m0nths younger (17 at the time) and Little Ronney who is 14 years younger (five at the time). Josie was very close to them and, as you can imagine. losing Josie is so hard on them. Josie had a special name only she called them; Nellie (Jessica) and Baby Nana (Ronney). Josie was the first person either one of them would run to when they were upset. That’s what big sisters are for. Jess told me a couple days after Josie died “She was not only lost a big sister, she lost her best friend” – she felt so alone. They had so many plans together. I remember when little Ronney was born. She helped give him his first bath, she cried so hard. She fell in love with him, he was the closest she would ever come to having a baby. Josie would have made a great mom. I have no doubt about that.
On October 13th 2010 our world changed forever. Josie was on her break between classes, when she met a friend for lunch. She had asked me to go to lunch with her first but I couldn’t. I will live with that regret for the rest of my life. I replay that moment over in my mind all the time. If only…..that’s on me. The boy she met murdered her not more than five miles from my house. She was stabbed to death. I will not go into detail; our family prefers to think of how she lived not how she died. I live everyday with those images in my head – there is no peace to be found there. Maybe someday they won’t haunt me as much, or maybe it will always be like this. I just don’t know.
I do know I will never understand how anyone could do this to another human being. How can someone look at another person and have so little regard? What gave him the right to take her from us? Why was my child only allowed to be on this earth for 19 years? Why not me? I would trade my life in a heartbeat to have her back. He took her beautiful light away from us. There will be no more hugs, smiles, movie nights or shopping trips. No more talks about boys or classes. Her Daddy will never get to give her away on her wedding day. When you lose a child you also lose the future – the hope that this child will make the world better. All your dreams and faith seem to be sucked right out of you. You have to fight every moment to breathe. You always think this could never happen to us. But death is the one thing you have no say in. It crosses all lines. Death has no prejudice. It takes the old, the young – any race, any sex, rich or poor, uneducated and educated. Death is final. It leaves more questions than answers. But I honestly think there will never be answers to make sense of this nightmare. Josie was a gift from God; no one had the right to deny this world of all she had to give. She should have had the chance to find her dreams and make them real. She had a strong mind and a great heart. Just think of what she could have done had she been given the chance to.
The year that followed was a nightmare. I can barely recall the days leading to her funeral, but I will never forget the night of October 13th. At about 7:45 p.m. the knock came. I was in my house clothes and a robe. My husband had just stepped in the shower and the baby just fell asleep. Jess was at work. When I looked to see who it was, I saw two men with official looking clothing. In my heart I knew they came about Josie. You see she should have been home about 5:00 p.m. She is almost never late and normally she texts me nonstop. Josie was a little thing about 5 feet 1’and 110 lbs. but that girl was always hungry. Never misses dinner. So where was she? I ALWAYS have dinner or a snack waiting for my family when they walk through the door. So for the last two hours I was texting her and I had called Jess at work, tried some friends already. My husband kept asking for her also. It was very unlike her. My sister Nicky had called earlier that night and I told her I couldn’t talk I was waiting to hear from Josie. I remember telling her I’m sure I’m overreacting. She’s a 19 year college student, I need to relax. I kept repeating that to myself. But I just couldn’t shake this feeling that something was wrong. Then came that hated knock on the door, those words that made my worst fears come true. The detective told us they were called to a house and found a female victim died at the scene. They showed us pictures and I saw Josie’s tattoo of her little cherry blooms (I still can’t think about that cherry blossom without this sick feeling in my stomach). There was no doubt I was looking at my daughter, but my heart won’t accept it. I whispered “it’s not true,” but of course it was. There are just some things a parent should NEVER have to see. Some words a parent should NEVER hear. Then the detectives started asking questions….I understand now they needed all the information they could get and fast but at the time I couldn’t understand the words. I knew the words but nothing formed in my mind. I looked at my husband, and he was yelling and repeating over and over, “NO NOT JOSIE NO NO NO”, and I wanted to hug him but still I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. I saw my husband take them to her room, and all I could think was how wrong it was for a stranger to touch her stuff. That thought brought me back and it hit me. I need Jess here NOW.
I got my keys and was walking out the door when the police stopped and told me I shouldn’t be driving. I informed them I HAD TO GET JESS NOW and I would get the neighbor to drive me. I told Ron to stay with my son and don’t awake him. I remember going to my daughter, Jessica’s work to get her and bring her home. I had planned to tell her at home but one look at me and she stopped and asked me “Where’s Josie?” I kept telling her to get in the car and we would talk when we got home but she kept saying “NO WHAT HAPPENED TO JOSIE.” I tried to hug her and take her hand but she pushed me away and said “WHAT HAPPENED TO JOSIE.” I had to tell her and watch how the pain washed over her. I had to call my mom and tell her. I could barely talk and all I could get out was Josie. She kept asking me is Josie ok…and I just kept saying NO. How do you explain to a five year old that his sister is gone and she can’t come back? How do you see him suffer and not be able to fix his hurt? To this day, every day, he tells me he misses his sister. My husband’s boss and wife, Pat and Elizabeth, came over that night and stayed with us. I don’t think there are too many people who could have done everything they did that night and the weeks that followed. They called everyone who needed to be called, made arrangements to pick up people coming by plane, held my hand, walked with us, prayed with us, I couldn’t have made it thru the night without them. They stayed in till my mom and Ron’s family could get here.
I look back on those two first two weeks and I can truly say we had so much support and love. I think my sisters ran everything like generals. I don’t even remember eating sleeping getting dressed: Sheila, who came every day for a month after everyone was gone; Lloyd, who was there every step of the way thru the whole justice system (that was a whole different nightmare). I wish I could name them all but that would take this whole book. One comment that really touched me was made by a friend and coworker to the press, he said, ‘the only way to describe Josie was she America’s sweetheart.’ In our darkest hours God sent us an army of angels. We got flowers and cards from around the world and people came from all parts of this country to honor our Josie. You see, we are a Marine family and we really do live by a code that says we take care of our own.
It’s been one year, one month and five days since we lost Josie and I can tell you not a day goes by that I don’t shed a tear – that I don’t pray it’s all a dream and not real. How do I go on from here, what have I learned? I have learned for every evil in this world there is love and hope. In that one act I have seen true evil and suffering. It is alive. BUT so is hope. I have felt it from my army of angels who have been there thru it all. The people and family who have lifted me up from the darkness; from my husband’s shoulders who carry so much but still hold me and kiss my tears. From my sisters of sorrow, my grieving mothers, from my Marine Corps family, from my friends and family who see my pain and don’t turn from it, but embrace and hug me. And from my two children who have the courage to live life even though they are in pain and still, I see them smile. I see Josie in my heart smiling down from heaven’s gates, waiting to be reunited with us some day. I can hear Josie saying I will be waiting for you. I have learned only thru God’s love and the love we show each other can we heal. I have learned the best way to honor Josie’s memory is to help others and allow others to help me. I have learned I need to allow myself to grieve healthy for my children and family. I know I will always hurt and will miss Josie, but maybe one day I will be able to forgive myself for not being able to protect her from the evil in this world.
You see that was my job. I was the one God chose to be Josie’s mom. I know in my head that makes no sense, but my heart isn’t ready to listen yet. People ask all the time how where doing? What can I say? Functioning as best as we can. Mostly I’m tired. I can never be good……I hate that word. Can we ever really be good? Yes functioning is the best word for life now. I guess we just have to make a new normal. And try every day to remind our self that we have each other and together we will make it. Remind our self never to let our heart stop reaching for each other and that’s what will give us the will to make it in the dark times and let us see the light again. Never forget we are all in pain BUT we are never alone. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
– Josie’s Mom. Rae
The following was written by Josie”s sister.
A Bright Dark Place
By Jessica Francisco Herrera
I went there only twice but it is a place I will never forget. Forever will it be engraved in my mind, a vague memory of a place I never thought I would step foot in.
Even with the sun shining through the freshly cleaned windows and the light bouncing off the walls, there was a dark aura that weighed heavily. No matter where I turned I could feel the ghost of emotion left behind by all those who were here before me. It was as if everything stopped – nothing existed in here but that emotion.
It was blatantly obvious that all the furniture and wall décor was kept and fresh, meant for comfort. Although, I found none in there. I don’t recall anything but a heavy feeling on my heart the first time I entered Haven brook Funeral Home.
My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would come out of my chest and I would see the damage that grief causes. No words of objection could escape my mouth because I had no voice. My legs capable of only moving forward, my brain unable to stop them or change their course. Distantly, I was aware of my uncle gripping my hand, willing me forward.
We entered another room, tiny by comparison to the main entrance. The first thing I noticed in this room was how dark it was. While being well-lighted everything was in shades of brown. From the carpet to the couches to the walls, all brown, taking away any comfort and suffocating it. Even though the intensity of the brown caught my initial attention, it was something else that held it.
As soon as I looked up, I saw the long, brown coffin, its open lid taunting me. My survival instincts taking over, gluing me to my spot in the doorway. A few moments later I ran out of the entire building.
I saw nothing new running out. I experienced no new feelings to my surroundings. I was completely numb to everything. The sun’s rays no longer gave warmth and were as dull as if the sky was clouded over. The birds chirping held no music as it once had. Everything just stopped, as if someone had pushed pause and the whole word conceded to its demand. Then, just as suddenly as it had stopped, the world continued to spin. I could think again.
Just as when I left, my senses were numb as I went in once more. It took seconds to get back to the room with the brown coffin. It wasn’t as taunting as I had found it to be before. Walking up to the coffin took an eternity, my whole body feeling as tired as if I had truly walked that distance with the sun’s blazing heat beating down on me.
Up close I saw the coffin was inlayed with white silky fabrics. Which was so obviously more for the deceased family then themselves; being as they no longer drew breath. It was hard to imagine, yet hard not to.
Every coffin has one thing in common – they are used to store the dead. In the particular coffin laid the remains of my sister. In this coffin was a breath of memory of what once was; what could have been. Holding onto what if was all I had right then. The only thing that could keep me going was that what if.
My sister is beautiful, both inside and out. Seeing what once was my sister lying in the coffin was beyond me. My mind was completely blank except for staring at her. She had never been so pale – she hated being pale. She looked as if the sun had never laid its warmth on her. The remnants of a smile that would never be seen again. They made her perfect except for the bruises on her wrist, evidence of some sort of struggle.
Being there, looking at her, reminded me I would never have a sister again. Being in a place filled with death can fill you with fear, make you think of your mortality. What I felt was immeasurably different. It was not fear, happiness or anger, but a loss of life. Losing my sister was like losing myself and almost one year later, I am still trying to find whom I used to be, finding myself again and figure out how to be her.
The family has created a Facebook page in her memory: