Walmart employees, co-workers of Melissa Villagrana, 38, who was shot to death on Nov. 18 in the parking lot there, organized a vigil for their friend and coworker, and the family of the victim, last Friday.
The vigil was organized by her Walmart colleagues outside on the west parking lot near the location where she was found that night.
Cousin and leader of the vigil, Santanna Lozano, was joined by Tanya Kasper, another of Villagrana’s extended family here, to speak to the crowd of 60-75 people that evening.
Those attending were invited to add to the memorial items displayed against the wall of the store; and to pray together and tell stories about Villagrana.
Lozano opened the hour-long vigil by asking everyone to pray with him, as he asked God to help those attending, her family and “connections” to “let go of it, and to give her peace … Watch over her family, and the man’s family, too. Help us to have rest, to actually get rest with sleep.”
He told the crowd that they had purple balloons and flowers at the memorial for her because purple was the color for royalty.
He called on everyone to sit back and enjoy the small things in life.
“We do have what right now looks like a family,” he said, and asked them not to carry anger or make judgments.
He said the memorial included a carton and other containers of Big Red soft drink, Villagrana’s favorite.
One man told about her helping change his work schedule at the last minute, when he had a chance to get back together with his estranged son. He said Melissa (Villagrana) listened to his story and changed his schedule so he could go to his son’s graduation in Dallas.
Kasper said she and Melissa grew up together as family and she was trying to smile when she wanted to cry.
“I’m the hyper one of the family, and she was two years older than me,” she said. “I ask you for your strength and love. Melissa probably talked to a thousand people a day here. To know that a thousand people loved her … wow!”
Trisha Jeffers said she and Melissa were close friends, close enough that when Jeffers was pregnant, she called Melissa one of her “baby moms” because they were so close.
She said they used to go out dancing, “the country way,” and told a story about talking Melissa into doing that when Jeffers was eight and a half months pregnant, too.
“She loved to dance,” Jeffers said.
She said when she tried to explain Melissa’s death to her three-year-old, the little girl told her, “She’s with Jesus now, and she’s happy.”
Co-worker Alex said she had an open heart and asked people every day if they were okay. “I want to see her and hug her and hear her voice again. One time when I was down about a good friend, she told me, ‘You have to have that strength so your friend sees a big smile on your face,’ and carry it in your heart.”
Tory said she made a “triangle” of friends with Melissa, and even when it got to be a lot more than three people, they still called it “Melissa’s triangle.”
A Walmart training coordinator who worked with Melissa said she liked her and her craziness, but sometimes told her to “put your big-girl panties on and go be firm!” She said Melissa was an amazing person, who liked lots of laughs and kept snacks in the office including Big Red, which diabetics are not supposed to be drinking.
A young former co-worker called her “basically another mom to me.” She said she lives nearby and heard the gunshots that night, and first thought it was fireworks. “I will deeply miss her,” she said. “Her smile was the most contagious thing.”
Kasper played the song “Dancing in the Sky” on a vehicle radio parked nearby, and invited people to dance while it played.
Lozano said another prayer; and then invited all attending to release their balloons, and light any sparklers they brought.
After her death, a relative of Villagrana issued one statement; and family members said a gofundme page had been set up to collect contributions toward her funeral expenses.
Villagrana was found in the Walmart parking lot late Monday night, Nov. 18; and when Kerrville police officers responded, witnesses identified the suspected shooter as Fernando Rolon Jr. The victim and shooter were identified as fellow Walmart employees.
He reportedly fled the scene, and was later located in the Rio 10 movie theater where his vehicle was found in the parking lot.
Law enforcement officers closed State Highway 173 from Hwy. 16 South to Loop 534, and attempted to talk Rolon into giving himself up. But he reportedly cut off communication with officers after several hours; and later, when members of the SOU team entered the building, they found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.