- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Jose Quiros and 14-year-old son Peter are enduring their first holiday season since wife and mother Ksenia Quiros killed herself in April in the wake of son Alexandre’s suicide.

The deaths rocked the community and the Air Force Academy, where Alex - “Sasha” to his family - was excelling and set to graduate when he died April 2. His mother disappeared 13 days later into Stratton Open Space, where she lay in a remote crevice, slept and died, having ingested excessive antihistamines. Now the family has gotten approval to place two memorial benches near a reservoir at the open space, probably in the spring.

“We’re just getting through the holidays,” Jose Quiros said after Thanksgiving. “Her birthday was really hard in September.

“Fortunately, there was so much time between their deaths and the holidays. Had they been back to back, I don’t know how you deal with that,” he said, expressing sympathy for those who lost family in two recent mass shootings, each of which killed three people in Colorado Springs.

Quiros said getting through both birthdays helped prepare him and Peter for the holidays.

“Thanksgiving Day was fine,” he said. “Peter helped with the turkey preparation. Now he’s an expert potato peeler. We’ll be having turkey again (for Christmas). Now he’s enjoying his meals a little more because he helps prepare them.

“With the holidays, we think about a lot of things. Do we put their stockings up or don’t we?”

Ksenia loved to celebrate Christmas, decking out the home with lights galore.

“You could see us from space, I swear,” Jose said. “We’ve got to figure out what to do with the lights.”

Jose and Peter plan to decorate a small pine tree near the site where Ksenia died.

Together, they tackled one of the tougher chores: sorting through their loved ones’ possessions, disposing of much and rearranging the house so everything isn’t a reminder.

“Emptying the closet took a few hours, but it took a week to recover. She had a lot of stuff,” Jose said. “Who knew Sasha was a diva? That kid had more clothes than my wife. Fancy pants, man, it was crazy.”

The cadet’s death raised suspicion as his body was covered with cuts. The El Paso County Coroner’s Office ruled that the wounds had been self-inflicted. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations refused to release results of its investigation and related documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the eight-month probe is ongoing.

“We’re doing well under the circumstances,” Jose said. “We’re working toward getting healthier and getting back to some type of normalcy. It’s helped a lot - the support and the outpouring, especially in those early days.”

From the start, Jose has said Ksenia went to be with Alex, knowing he would take care of Peter.

“She wasn’t thinking straight,” he said. “She was in a lot of pain.”

Despite the tragedies, Peter is doing well. And Jose is devoted to his son. The two spent a month in Europe over the summer getting to know one another better, and it “broke the cycle we were in,” Jose said.

Peter’s grades are good, he has become proficient in math, he “eats up the miles” running and is looking forward to college, his father said.

“He’s grown up a lot, unfortunately,” Jose said. “Even though that’s been bad, he’s channeling it in a good way. . He’s been the ground for me. Otherwise, people lose themselves. We help each other, and it’s worked.”

They were planning to visit Wilhelm Monument Co. this month to select designs and wording for the memorial benches, which will be placed on Colorado Springs Utilities land near the South Suburban Reservoir, said Mark Shea, watershed planning supervisor for Utilities.

“There was a very positive, strong consensus (on the sites),” Shea said. “Jose sounded very satisfied, and his son Peter was there, too. Both really enjoyed the locations.”

When the bench approval process got ensnared in city government bureaucracy, Utilities President and CEO Jerry Forte reportedly told a Utilities manager: “Just make it happen.” And they did.

“For us, it’s a way to remember them in a positive way,” Jose said. “It’s beautiful out there. It’s a good place to go and sit and remember them. For other folks, it’s just a good place to sit - and a good view.”

He rejected several offers to start a fund or contribute money, but the bench idea resonated. It came from Sharon Dauwalder of Alpine, Utah, who has a son at the academy.

“We just wanted the lives of Ksenia and Alex to offer a more lasting meaning - for all of us,” Dauwalder said.

She has collected more than $12,000 in donations, mostly from fellow academy parents, and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation is managing the money.

“There’s a process of things you go through when someone dies,” Jose said. “The benches aren’t something you have to do. Thanks to the generosity of all these people, now we’ll have something permanent. We’re eternally grateful.”

Meanwhile, father and son are able to do a little more each day, “but there’s still times we just back off,” Jose said. “We’re doing more things together. We have no choice. But that’s also been rewarding in some ways.

“It’s made us stronger.”

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Information from: The Gazette, https://www.gazette.com


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