Lariat Letter: I am ashamed of my peers for not staying at memorial

By Rebekah Hernandez

This is a letter to certain people who attended the West memorial service last Thursday.

It was an event to honor the 12 fallen first responders in the West explosion.

These men, who were volunteers, most of whom had wives and children, laid their lives down for their neighbors that fateful Wednesday night two weeks ago. They paid the ultimate price. Seeing those 12 coffins lined up at the foot of the stage with the families gathered by, and countless firefighters, the members of the West, Waco and Baylor community all coming together to honor these men filled me with indescribable heartache and pride all at once.

I was moved by the speeches the families of the fallen gave. I was moved by President Obama’s condolences for our little community. The traditions I witnessed were heart-wrenching.

I was heartbroken, but so proud of where I live because I saw our community come together to support West and these families who have lost their husbands, sons, and brothers.

Then I was moved in the opposite direction.

I am appalled at what I saw after President Obama’s speech. Before he had even taken his seat again, people all over the Ferrell Center stood up and left. I understand this also occurred in the overflow areas on campus.

They simply left. Many of them were Baylor students. Not all, but many. I have one question for those of you who left: How dare you?

How dare you disrespect these men and their families?

This memorial was meant to honor them. It was not for President Obama. It was not an opportunity to update your Twitter or Facebook saying you were in the presence of our president. If anything, you should be boasting you were in the presence of 12 fallen heroes!

These men are gone from life as we know it and their families are in mourning. They will never see their loved ones on this earth again. Do you not realize that this service was a funeral for men who would have laid their lives down for any one of us without hesitation? And you leave their families in their time of need? This is despicable!

That speech you so anxiously awaited for spoke of our strong, loving, supportive community. President Obama praised us for being so tightly knit, for being able to rely on one another in times of need.

I cannot help but wonder if you heard a single word.

You showed none of these qualities that day. You showed your trivial motives and blatant disrespect, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Can you fathom how walking out on this memorial made the families feel? To know that this community they thought they could rely on was really only sticking around to see President Obama who, while he deserves respect, was not at all the point of this service?

In their place, I would be crushed. I would feel betrayed. And they’re right to feel that if they do. You would not walk out on a funeral for your loved ones, nor would you want any others to walk out, yet you do it to 12 men all at once.

I’m already pained by this incredible loss, but now I am also livid and embarrassed. I can only hope that those who left the memorial reflect on their actions and learn to show respect where it is due.

I hope that our community can teach each other to live by that support and love we were praised for today.

We are better than this.

To those who stayed which, thankfully, was the majority, I say thank you for showing decency and respect.

My deepest condolences go out to those in West. My heart breaks for you.

And to the fallen 12, to their families, I ask your forgiveness for the disrespect displayed to you today. May you heal in peace and grow in love from this tragedy.

– Rebekah Hernandez, Richland Hills senior