Arlin Castro received a phone call and almost immediately hung up the phone.
He always joked with family and friends that when U.S. citizens go to El Salvador they try to scare you, hold relatives for ransom, or commit murder. On the other end of the phone his mother was hysterical, he said, saying his baby sister Ana was killed.
“I really just couldn’t understand,” the 24-year-old said. “I felt lost. I called my dad to tell me what happened and he said, ‘Son, it’s true.’”
The Southampton senior was killed in San Miguel when a drunk driver struck the car she was traveling in with her cousins and aunt on December 23, just three days after her birthday. The 18-year-old was visiting family to celebrate, and she wanted to tell them she’d been accepted to college. Ana would have been the first in her family to attend.
Castro said he then spoke to his cousin Jose Erik Ramirez, desperately searching for someone to tell him the news wasn’t true. He went to visit his family and said his mother was looking to hear the same thing.
“She locked eyes with me and asked, ‘Baby, is it true? Tell me it’s not true,’” he recalled. “I just started crying. I didn’t know how to react — I was shocked. I was at a loss for words. A child is supposed to bury their parents. No parent should have to bury their child.”
Castro said he remembers, as a child, telling his mother and father he’d wanted a boy to join him and his older brother Freddy, 29, but said when he saw Ana in the hospital it was “love at first sight.”
“My brother and I, we took care of her, we helped raise her,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling knowing she was about to finish school, got accepted to college, had her own car, and that a lot of people loved her. She was a beautiful person. My sister was like my child. I taught her how to walk, talk, dress. She loves fashion. It hurts knowing that she’s not here with us anymore.”
Castro had taken his younger sister to catch a flight on the day of her birthday, December 20, but said the pair eventually returned home after word of cancellation spread.
“She was upset about it but I told her, ‘It’s OK, things happen for a reason. Maybe God had different plans,’” Castro said. “She understood, and boarded an 11 PM flight the next night. We talked when she got there, and I told her ‘I love you, I miss you. Just please be careful and take care of yourself.’”
Castro had yet to open up to anyone about the pain this brought him. The fact that the family had to wait more than two weeks for Ana’s body due to government services being closed for the holidays added more weight than he could handle. In the interim, Ramirez set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for her flight back and funeral costs. As of the morning of January 7, $25,650 was raised by 459 people, far surpassing the goal of $18,000.
“Ana was a wonderful, smart, and beautiful young girl,” Christine Martin wrote with her donation.
Southampton High School teacher John Walsh, fifth-grade teacher Kathy Algieri, and high school parent of two, Karine Bakhoum, were among many others who shared words of remembrance and sorrow.
“Ana’s smile and laughter brightened our fifth-grade classroom many moons ago,” Algieri said.
“I cannot imagine the pain and sadness that you are all feeling,” Bakhoum wrote. “You are in my prayers.”
Services for Ana will be held 10 AM Saturday, January 12, at Hampton Bays United Methodist Church, followed by burial at Good Grounds Cemetery in Hampton Bays.
Castro said it’s been hard to process all the “Rest In Peace” and “Why do the good die young?” messages he’s seen on social media, but wants people to remember his sister as a great daughter, great sister, a great aunt, and a great friend.
“Losing a loved one, especially one at that age, who was just starting to live, it’s hard,” Castro said. “It sucks knowing I’m never going to see her walk down the aisle for her diploma, go to college, get married, have a child, but I know she’s up there looking down on us, and watching over us. She’ll always live in my heart and in the hearts of all who loved her.”