Families in Venezuela say they are mourning loved ones, while the bishop of Brownsville, Texas, has urged prayer for seven Venezuelan men who died outside a center for migrants in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
“We mourn and are shocked by the horrific loss of the lives of the … immigrant men from Venezuela who were killed when a vehicle crashed into them … in Brownsville,” Bishop Daniel Flores said May 7, the day eight people were killed after they were struck by an SUV outside the Ozanam Center, an overnight shelter founded by the Brownsville diocese.
The Range Rover SUV ran a red light Sunday morning, lost control, and hit some 18 people, six of whom died on the scene. It was driven by George Alvarez of Brownsville, who has been charged with manslaughter, while police officers investigate whether the crash was intentional.
The victims were waiting at a bus stop, shelter director Victor Maldonado told the Associated Press. The Ozanam Center was founded by the Brownsville diocese to house Central American political refugees, and, works in concert with the migration services of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
For his part, Flores urged Catholics to “mourn these losses of life and to pray.”
Among the dead was Richard Bustmante, who had come to the United States two days before he was killed.
"Richard was my only son, he was 27 years old,” Gloria Pérez, mother of Richard Bustamante, told The Pillar Tuesday through tears.
“He left to find the American dream on April 12. He arrived without any problem on May 5. He obtained his documents [Notice to Appear] at immigration and was waiting outside the shelter when the tragedy occurred,” she added.
Bustamante, 27, was a police officer in his hometown of Guanare, in central Venezuela. During his migration to the U.S., he had crossed through the dangerous Darien Gap, between Panama and Colombia, in which violence is rampant and there is no highway to navigate through dense jungle. Hundreds of Venezuelan migrants have died in the Daried Gap while trying to reach the U.S.
“I'm desperate. I'm in the process of repatriating his body,” Karina Bustamante, Richard's sister, told The Pillar.
“We do not want his body to disappear or to be cremated. We want to bring his body home, to give him a Christian burial in Venezuela.”
Another of the dead was Luis Matute, a husband and father. His brother Larry Matute, spoke with The Pillar Tuesday.
"My brother Luis worked on his own for what he had. He worked for a while as a driver here. First he migrated to Colombia, where he stayed for a while and then he went to Ecuador with his wife and children. They stayed there while he went first to U.S — but then the tragedy happened."
Matute's death has not been reported by the Venezuelan media, but his brother Larry confirmed to The Pillar that Brownsville authorities called him to identify his body.
"They asked me for a photo of him. Then they told me he was dead and asked if I had family there to remove the body," Matute told The Pillar.
The Ozanam shelter receives thousands of migrants in the Rio Grande region who are released from federal custody after entering the United States.
In his May 7 statement, Flores explained that Catholic Charities works with the shelter “to help provide humanitarian aid to the immigrant population as they seek shelter while making arrangements to meet with their families further north.”
“This is done as an assistance to, and with the cooperation of government authorities.”
The bishop urged Catholics to “pray for the victims, pray for the families and loved ones, and pray for our community. And after we pray, let us continue our common efforts to serve those most in need.”