- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2005

Mourners filled a Catholic church in the District yesterday for a somber goodbye to Lilibeth Gomez, one of two children killed in a school bus crash in Arlington.

?The shock of Lilibeth’s death has astounded me and my whole parish,? said the Rev. Agustin Mateo-Ayala, who spoke in English and Spanish during the service, held at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Catholic Church in Adams Morgan ?May God bless us as we celebrate her passing through this life.?

He said in Spanish to the Gomez family: ?Lilibeth no esta muerta. Lilibeth esta viva,? which translates to ?Lilibeth is not dead. She is alive,? referring to an afterlife in heaven.

Lilibeth, 9, was killed Monday morning when a school bus taking her and classmates to the Hoffman-Boston Elementary School in Arlington collided with a trash truck at the intersection of Columbia Pike and South Courthouse Road.

“Lilibeth, you were a good daughter and a very good sister, and you were the most beautiful person that has ever existed,” read a program handed out to mourners. “You will live on always in our family.” A photograph of the girl, her jet-black hair pulled up in barrettes, was printed on the front.

Harrison Orosco, 7, died Wednesday night at Children’s Hospital from injuries sustained in the crash. Family members said he never regained consciousness. His funeral is scheduled for Monday at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church on North Washington Boulevard in Arlington.

Those injured among the 13 other students on the bus — including Harrison’s stepsister, Milagros Gamboa, 11 — have been treated and released from medical services.

Bus driver Pam Sims, 37, was treated for cuts and also released from a hospital.

A spokesman at Inova Fairfax Hospital where truck driver James S. Wallace, 41, was taken, said yesterday the family has requested that no information be released.

State and Arlington police have yet to determined whether either driver was at fault and plan to release details only when the investigation is finished.

?Our timeline for completing the investigation is probably going to be measured in weeks rather than days,? said Matthew Martin, spokesman for the Arlington Police Department.

The National Transportation Safety Board also is conducting an investigation, which could take as long as a year.

Yesterday inside the church, candles created a somber atmosphere. A few children wept quietly on their parents’ shoulders as a choir sang dirges.

Father Mateo-Ayala said a family losing a child brings ?a profound pain that is private and exclusive.?

Yet he reminded the roughly 200 persons inside the popular Hispanic church that every soul is connected.

?When one of us is suffering, we all suffer,? Father Mateo-Ayala said. ?Support each other with hope and permanent love.?

Among those from the Arlington public school system who attended were Superintendent Robert G. Smith, School Board Chairman Libby Garvey and Hoffman-Boston Principal Yvonne Dangerfield.

?My pain has become yours,? Lilibeth’s father, Jorge Gomez, said in thanking those who helped in the days since his daughter’s death.

He and his wife, Maria Rosa, later comforted their other children outside the church, which the Gomez family has attended for about seven years, after immigrating from El Salvador about 20 years ago.

Lilibeth was the second youngest in her family, which includes four sisters and a brother.

Lilibeth’s tiny white coffin, with a large wreath and draped in a white cloth, was carried by pallbearers to a funeral processional that grew to more than 50 vehicles.

Lilibeth’s sister remembered her as a girl who liked to jump rope, play soccer and eat pizza with pineapple.

Linda Erdos, spokeswoman for the school system, said charitable donations paid the family’s funeral expenses.

She also said students at Hoffman-Boston are slowly returning to their routines.

?The counselors are still there to assist [but] one of the things we always tell parents is get them back to a normal routine,? Miss Erdos said. ?So that’s what we’re doing.?

Jose Ventura, a relative whose daughter attended school with Lilibeth, said, ?We’re all praying every night.?

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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