ALTON–The ceremony to remember the 21 was solemn, but families and students couldn’t help but smile as they released butterflies Friday morning to honor the students who died in a bus accident 25 years ago.
“We chose the butterflies because like our 21 students, although their lifespan is short, it is long enough to leave its legacy for others to follow,” Carla Femat, chairwoman of Alton Memorial Junior High’s Remembering the 21 Committee.
On the morning of Sept. 21, 1989, a Dr. Pepper truck hit a Mission Consolidated Independent School District school bus filled with junior high and high school students at the intersection of Mile 5 and Bryan Road, sending the bus into a caliche pit filled with water. Sixty students survived.
To mark the 25th year since that tragic event, MCISD held a ceremony at Alton Memorial, attended by Rafael Cantu, superintendent of the district in 1989, and Cynthia Del Bosque, a student on the bus who survived.
Band and choir students at the junior high participated in the ceremony, with the band playing “Amazing Grace” and the choir singing “You Raise Me Up.”
Del Bosque was crying as she stood to address students and family members attending the ceremony. It’s the first time she’s attended a memorial ceremony since 1989, she said, because it was too hard, so she made excuses. Del Bosque was a senior at Mission High School when the bus accident occurred.
At the ceremony, she’d hoped to thank Gus Zapata, then principal of Mission High School, who in the aftermath of the tragedy, rode the bus with her after the incident to make sure she got to school.
Del Bosque, now an attorney married with two sons, has used the tragedy to motivate herself to achieve success.
“I promised myself early on that I would not let the children’s tragedy be in vain,” she said.
Del Bosque said she thinks a lot about why she survived and others didn’t. She doesn’t have any answers, but it did force her to examine her life and how she lives it.
“All I can think is that I had unfinished business to attend to,” Del Bosque said. “I’d like to believe that my purpose on earth is to serve God through his people.”
Students could be seen wiping their eyes and Cantu recounted watching the scene unfold that September day in 1989.
“As the number increased, the more devastated I felt, and that began a long period of time of being in a fog, in a daze,” Cantu said.
It’s appropriate for the students to be there, he said, because the community needs to remember to live life to the fullest and the families of the victims need to know that the community remembers their children.
The school was named in honor of the 21 students, and Femat said the butterfly garden, first dedicated 10 years ago, always would stand as a symbol of love and dedication to those students.
Families of the students at the ceremony were given 21 butterflies, one for each student, to release in the garden, and many took the time to visit trees dedicated to each of the students killed in the 1989 tragedy.
Each tree had a wooden cross posted in front of it with a student’s name engraved: Maria Alfaro, Roberto Bazaldua Jr., Margarita Buentello, Carmen Canales, Elda P. Cruz, Raul Flores, Elizabeth Flores, Abdon Garcia, Armando Gonzalez, Ruby Lopez, Marta Amelia Lozano, Jose L. Ortega, Veronica Perez, Yesenia Perez, Roman Quintero, Apolonia Regalado, Maria Regalado, Anna Rodriguez, David Saenz, Michael P. Saenz and Alberto Vasquez.