By Mitch Borden
Leilah Hernandez was 15 years old. She had just started her sophomore year at Odessa High School. And over the Labor Day weekend she was with her family at a car dealership when she was fatally shot.
Her name is now written on a white cross, as part of a memorial honoring her and the six others killed in the mass shooting in Odessa.
Her uncle, Rafael Hernandez, drove up from Fort Stockton to visit the memorial. He wanted to leave behind a message on the wooden cross.
He says his niece was a loving and kind person. His family is left wondering how someone so innocent could be taken from them. He says, he doesn’t know how they’ll get through this.
“It’s been a piece of our heart that’s been taken from us,” Hernandez said. “It’s impossible to replace it.”
At school, Leilah played volleyball and basketball. Earlier this year, she celebrated her quinceañera. Photos from the coming-of-age celebration show her in a dazzling green, sequined gown — her smile, from cheek to cheek.
At the makeshift memorial, where silent mourners continue to visit, Kimberly Juarez is standing before Leilah’s cross. She’s thinking of her friend she’s known since third grade. She says she’ll miss “everything” about Leilah.
“But most importantly, her heart, her smile, her life,” Juarez says. “Everything, she was just perfect in every way possible.”
Kimberly says her and Leilah were friends almost immediately. Today, she’s wiping away tears as she lays a silver rosary on her friend’s memorial. Just seeing Leilah’s name on a cross, stunned her.
“I just felt my whole body get weak,” Kimberely says. “Like, I didn’t want to accept it, I don’t want to. I know she’s in better hands and she’s in a better place than she was here with us.”
On the front steps of Odessa High School, Leilah’s classmates have laid out photos, streamers and flowers to celebrate her life. One message reads, “I miss the days you made me smile.” Another simply says “Never forgotten.”
As students returned after the holiday weekend, Kimberely says things were different — you could feel everyone’s grief.
“Everybody just seems to themselves,” Kimberely said.”So isolated. Just doesn’t seem like OHS anymore.”
As she says goodbye to her friend, Kimberely hugs her mother Lizeth Aguilar. After the shooting, Aguilar has been having a hard time been figuring out how to comfort her daughter.
“To see your child cry for a best friend is so hard,” Aguilar says. “Because what do you tell her? How do you console her? How do you tell her something is going to be okay when you yourself don’t even know.”
It’s a question all of Odessa is struggling with right now.
Leilah Hernandez is survived by her family. Including her brother Nathan Hernandez who was injured during Saturday’s shooting.