By Fr. Dean McFalls,
The Mossdale Bridge is an uninviting place to be on an early winter morning.
I ventured out on its aging wooden timbers the morning we began Angela’s services. Already the sun was working hard to break through a cloud barrier. A chilly wind mixed with cool air rising from the river down below. With the gaps of empty space so visible between old railroad ties and through the grey metal grating, I made sure my cell phone and wallet were secure. What seemed thoroughly insecure was my safety as I began climbing the staircase.
A bundle of barbed wire had been pulled aside to make way for youth and young adults wanting to take a risk. The upper platform afforded access to what proved to be Angela’s last ascent. I investigated how a healthy person might climb up toward the highest deck, but I knew my limits. There was something forbidding about this old railroad passage, something more than the sum-total of its high-risk features and the threatening waters underneath.
“Haunted Places in California” lists the Mossdale Bridge as Lathrop’s claim to fame. The online collection explains why, with echoes of Angela’s story.
Whatever her reason for scaling the bridge’s towers February 24th, this 21-year-old Sierra High graduate had always loved pushing her limits. And true to the messages of her classmates clustered around her photograph in the 2009 senior yearbook, she made every minute count — and lived as if tomorrow might never come. It was this yearbook that had stood for me from the shadows of her closet as we blessed her room in the wee hours of that morning. Thursday night, together with scripture and music she had loved, that souvenir would provide all the wisdom and inspiration that we needed.
Beside the barbed wire on the bridge, a close friend had framed her message to Angela along with photographs of her with family (in the snow) and friends (being wild). Surrounded by flowers, candles, a teddy-bear and memorabilia, the letter began: “Angie, I love you so much. You were my first best friend.”
Since the frame was perched precariously and in danger of falling into the river, I used a tattered bungee cord to attach it better to the cold, steel girder.
That night, with well over two-hundred people packed in the chapel, I read that message as the opening scripture for Angela’s vigil. It seemed to unite so many of the sentiments inscribed forever in the Lathrop girl’s yearbook.
These words would linger in our minds and hearts as Fr. Camilo celebrated the funeral mass at St. Anthony’s, then lead that most painful of processions.
Following Angela’s burial, once all the ceremonies had concluded, the crowd of friends and family stood there, in silence, staring in toward the grave. Deep inside was the wooden casket that, tragically, never was able to be opened.
We prayed again, and sang, and listened to loved ones share from the heart.
Then I felt the urging from heaven to pull out my cellular phone again, to borrow some reading glasses, and to read aloud that message from the bridge:
“Angie, I love you so much,” her friend began. “You were the first best friend in my life. We are closer than just friends. You are my sister for 16 years, the closest person in my heart. There won’t be a day that goes by that you are not in my dreams and heart. I will miss every part about your loving and giving soul. I love you sissy. I miss you so much. I hope you are at peace.”
“Father,” someone told me, “she’s standing right behind you.” I spun around, half-thinking they were talking about Angela. But no, she was down there, in the casket, and up there, climbing steadily to heaven, never again to fall.
It was the girl who had written the beautiful framed words perched there so precariously on Mossdale Bridge. I thanked her and gave her a big hug. Just like Angela would have done. And then I remembered those other words that appeared Thursday morning near the spot where our hero had died.
These were the words Angela herself had chosen to locate beneath her photo in the 2009 Sierra High School Yearbook. I had been impressed by them at the family’s home, and now they were written big and boldly, on a very large piece of paper carried to the makeshift shrine for signing. Angela’s words were processed onto the bridge just as I was about to leave, along with nearly a dozen young people who appeared, almost like spirits, out of the cold mist.
I requested the privilege of being the first to sign my name. And here, then, are the words which Angela Marie Jacquez left us as the summary of her life:
“You’re alive, so DO something. Life doesn’t always have to be complicated. I can sum it up in four words. Look. Listen. Choose. Act.” That she did.
On behalf of Angela’s family, I’d like to express gratitude for all the prayers, the support, the solidarity, and the gestures of kindness during this most difficult of times. We also thank the many representatives of the Army National Guard who came, in a variety of uniforms, to honor the burial, and to remind us that Angela was, among so other things, a dedicated soldier.
But I would be negligent if I did not echo the family’s sentiment that more should be done to prevent our youth from risking their lives and their futures on the Mossdale Bridge. Angela, may your crossing over to paradise be safe.