On Thursday March 19th in Austin, Texas, a fifteen year old girl passed away by the hand of a hit and run driver outside of the airport where I work. The news may call Julissa Gutierrez a victim, but the raw reality of it is that she is a person of flesh, ripped away from life itself.
With the driver still unknown (and even if they were recovered), there are so many questions. So many things to wonder. There are lots of thoughts filled with sadness, anger, grief, and a need for justice.
Lots of us, unfortunately, go through life missing those who we tragically lost. In High school, I lost a friend who was also only fifteen years old by a hit-and-run tragedy. On my first day back to school in California from a brief move to Hawai’i, I anxiously searched for James with a letter that I had written to him. The letter was in response to all of the ones he had written to me while I was away. I never wrote him back while I was gone, so on the flight back to San Diego I wrote a long letter with the intention of handing it to him when I saw him. I would never see James again, and the letter would only reach him by thought.
In his letters addressed to me, he asked me lots of questions. What was my favorite color? Did I swim with turtles in the oceans of Hawai’i? Would he need extra, extra sunscreen should he be able to visit me one day? In my letter back, I answered his questions, and asked them back.
In this open letter to Julissa, I ask her questions too, because I want her to be thought of as the beautiful teenage girl she thrived as, not by the headlines:
You are precious.
I think about you every day.
But I don’t want to think about the sad things, I want people to think about you.
For instance, what was your favorite subject in school? Your classmates talk about your
infectious smile, and how so many love you.
How about a favorite color – did you have one? What was your happiest memory as a child?
Did you have a favorite book? If you could live in another country for a year, which would it be?
I wonder what your most valued personal item was, and why?
I wish I knew what inspired you, and what you thought about doing as a career.
I didn’t know you, but I think about you every day.
Your loved ones care very much for you, and your memory will survive them.
You are forever precious.
If you or someone you know have any information regarding the hit-and-run, please contact the Austin Police Department. You can donate to Julissa’s service to help her family here, and please always remember and encourage others to be focused and alert when operating a vehicle. Although we do not yet know what happened with this particular case, we can always prevent another by making absolutely sure that we are being responsible when we get behind the wheel. Someone’s life may depend on it.