ALAMOSA — This spring, Anisa might have been a missionary in Africa. Serina and Selena might have been finishing their first year of college, studying to be doctors.
Instead, they will be remembered today as the high school senior and middle school eighth graders they were on April 28, 2012, when a drunk driver extinguished their lives at the intersection of Pueblo Boulevard and Northern Avenue in Pueblo.
There will be a special event this evening at that intersection for Anisa Montoya, Serina Sena and Selena Mascarenas.
The daughter of Martin and Nicole Montoya, Anisa was class president of the 2012 Alamosa High School class and would have graduated a month after the fatal crash.
The daughter of Arlene Sena and Benny Sena, Serina was an eighth grader at Sangre de Cristo School who had previously attended Alamosa schools. She enjoyed church events and loved to sing and read.
The daughter of Clemente Mascarenas and Lynn Gutierrez, Selena was an eighth grader at Ortega Middle School. She enjoyed attending church functions and collecting big stuffed animals.
Martin Montoya is the pastor of The Door Christian Fellowship Church, which will celebrate 10 years of service in Alamosa this year. This week he shared remembrances of his daughter, the event that took her life and the faith that has sustained him.
Anisa, 18, was the Montoyas’ oldest child and only daughter. Her father was only 16 when she was born.
The Montoyas’ youngest son Jediah had just turned 4 the week before Anisa was killed. Despite the 14-year gap in their ages, Anisa and her baby brother were close, their father recalled.
“If there’s anybody that remembers her, it’s him.”
Jaedon, the Montoyas’ oldest son, is now 17 but was only 12 when his sister was killed. He was with his father when the crash occurred. They were right behind Anisa’s car.
Although deeply affected by this tragedy, Jaedon has pressed forward.
“He’s a go getter. He has goals,” his father said. Jaedon does well in school, is involved in sports, wants to be a surgeon and “has a good spirit and attitude.”
Middle son Jace, 11, is musically talented like his big sister.
“If any of my kids is like my daughter, it’s him,” Pastor Montoya said. “I see so much of her spirit in him. He’s very competitive, very talented, musically talented. That’s what she was. She played every instrument in this church. He plays every instrument in this church.”
Whatever would capture Anisa’s interest, she would become passionate about, and Jace is like that, too.
Anisa shared her passion for music with her dad, and the two would sing together in churches in Colorado or Las Vegas, New Mexico, where the family was from. One of the songs they sang together focused on being in heaven, a song that has even more meaning to Pastor Montoya now.
“The great thing is we know we are going to see her again one day,” he said. “That’s the confidence we have in our faith and the promises of God. That’s like the fuel in our forward motion.”
Martin Montoya was not always a Christian.
“I was a mess like a lot of people,” he said. He became a Christian when he was 19 years old because he said he knew he needed God’s help in his life and he wanted to go to heaven. He has lived for Jesus in the 20 years since.
He tells people, “We are not perfect, but we are not what we used to be.”
He added, “I want my kids to have a great life and I want my kids to go to heaven.”
He said when the accident happened, it was hard to become too angry or feel too sorry for himself because “I got right with God so I could get to heaven and so my kids could get to heaven. We know where she is and we know we will see her again.”
The family still feels her loss terribly, he said, and not a day goes by that they don’t miss her. Family pictures around the house remind them of the times they had together, and her room is still adorned with her favorite pink and green colors. Her pink guitar still sits in her room.
“She wasn’t a saint next to Mother Teresa, but she was an amazing, amazing girl all the way around. She loved her God, she loved her church, she loved her family, and she loved her friends.”
Anisa wanted to be a pastor’s wife and a missionary to Africa. When Keenan, one of her childhood friends from their Las Vegas church, learned of Anisa’s burden to go to Africa he turned down a scholarship to a college in California to go with his parents as missionaries to Africa.
“He did it in her place,” Pastor Montoya said.
The Friday evening before the fatal crash, Anisa was working on a paper for class. The theme was the greatest influences on the student’s life. Martin and Nicole were unaware of the paper or its content until Sunday when Jaedon showed it to them. Anisa had asked him to look it over that Friday night.
Anisa wrote in her paper that although there were many people who were great influences on her, the greatest influences in her life had been her mom and dad. She wrote that she knew everything they had done was for her benefit.
“It was a ‘good-bye mom and dad, I love you so much’. She didn’t realize that’s what it was going to be.”
Pastor Montoya has been able to minister in a more powerful way than ever before as a result of this tragedy in his own life, because now he has lived what he preached about God carrying people through difficult times. He has been able to share Anisa’s story, “but not just her story, God’s story and the precious hope.”
His goal in sharing this experience “is to let folks know no matter how difficult your life is or what events you encounter along the way, there’s a God in heaven that can get you through everything.”
Pastor Montoya has been able to sit with families who have lost children like he has and share the hope he has.
He recalled the first moments after he found Anisa, Serina and Selena dead. He was leaning up against a street sign at the intersection with his head in his hands wondering how this could be real.
“God put a finger in my chest, ‘you’ve got to live it now.’” He had been preaching about God, and now when his life was shaken apart, he had to put into action the words he had spoken. He began ministering to others in the intersection and has been using his tragedy to continue ministering to others ever since.
Five firefighters and a police officer came to Jesus because of Pastor Montoya’s ministry that night, and God only knows how many since then who have been changed because of the Montoyas’ testimony.
“My wife and I have done our very, very best to be rock solid,” he said. Others who have felt like giving up on their faith or life have told the Montoyas they have held on because they have seen them hold on.
“I always tell folks in our church that our life of faith is lived not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. There’s always somebody watching us, always.”
Pastor Montoya added, “The safest place to be is in the hands or in the will of God. That’s where I want our family to stay. I want our family to be in God’s will.”
Pastor Montoya and his family are grateful for the church and community that helped them and the other girls’ families through this. People and businesses donated food and funds to help with the memorial service and burial expenses.
“The community was such an amazing community,” he said.
Although he and his wife were not from here, the people of the community embraced them, suffered with them and supported them.
“This is what we call home. I don’t have intentions of ever leaving,” Pastor Montoya said. “It’s beautiful. In small communities you know each other, you care about each other.”
He added, “I want to make sure Alamosa and the Valley know that I was very grateful for every person, every store, every business, everybody. I believe that was another source of strength we are going to make it. We are going to make it because of God. We are going to make it because of family. We are going to make it because we are not alone.”
Caption: The banners shown are hanging at the intersection in Pueblo where from left above Serina Sena, Selena Mascarenas and Anisa Montoya were killed on this date five years ago. Courtesy photos
Special event set tonight
A special event will be held this evening (April 28) at 7 at Pueblo Boulevard and Northern Avenue in Pueblo for Alamosa teens Anisa Montoya, Serina Sena and Selena Mascarenas, who were killed by a drunk/speeding driver at this intersection on this date five years ago.
The event will be held in a grassy area belonging to the City of Pueblo and Colorado Department of Transportation that have given the use of the space for this event. The neighboring McDonald’s, which held major fund-raisers shortly after the tragic crash, is sharing its electricity for the event.
Pueblo Police Officer Jeff Capito, who responded to the scene of the crash, will share his testimony this evening, as will others who responded that night. The group will also share worship songs and special music.
Banners with the three young ladies’ pictures and the words “we will never forget you” will be displayed at the site.
Pastor Martin Montoya, Anisa’s father, said he believed this was an appropriate event to warn against drunk driving, especially since this is Pueblo’s prom weekend. He will be speaking to conclude the event tonight and will be the Sunday speaker in the Pueblo fellowship church associated with Pastor Montoya’s church in Alamosa, The Door. The pastor in Pueblo, Pastor Roy Garcia, will be speaking at The Door in Alamosa this Sunday, April 30.
The three teens who were killed attended The Door, and their families are still members. The three girls had attended a church event in Pueblo before the fatal crash.