This man, this father, bowed his head as he walked to the front of the chapel. He leaned over the small white casket and kissed his son. And then he wept.
There was no talk last night of what went wrong — or what anyone might have done.
Here, inside the Rutherford Funeral Home in Powell, hundreds gathered not to ask questions but to say goodbye to Angel Gustavo Hernandez.
They came to say goodbye to this 4-year-old who, his teacher said, unlike many other children in his Sunday school class, always said “please” when asking for candy. A boy who the Rev. Rafael Castro said was more grateful than any other when he got his gift at a Christmas party just days before his death.
A boy who — if the trinkets and toys that were placed at his casket were any indication — loved Transformers and soccer and construction trucks that were just the right size for his tiny hands.
But Natividad de Jesus Hernandez couldn’t stay for all of his son’s memorial service. His attorney spoke up after about an hour to say that Hernandez needed to leave to be back at the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg before 10 p.m.
After kissing his son, Hernandez turned to his supporters: “I have been destroyed by this,” he said through an interpreter. “But at the same time I pray to God. He has never abandoned me, nor have the people who love me.” He hugged his family and then he left.
Hernandez is charged with leaving the scene on Dec. 26 of the incident that killed his son. State troopers say Hernandez told them he was at a residential construction site on Brock Road in Union County to steal scrap material when, after a work truck pulled in, he put Angel into the family’s van to leave.
Hernandez told officials that as he walked around to get in the driver’s door, the boy somehow got out of the van without him knowing it, and he hit his son as he drove off.
All the emergency personnel who initially responded, including a deputy sheriff, left with Angel in the ambulance, leaving Hernandez and his girlfriend’s two children by the side of the road. After a few minutes, Hernandez left. He showed up at OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital two hours later; his son was already dead.
Hernandez, a native of El Salvador, is in the United States without proper documentation. Immigration officials say they will deport him.
The case angered immigration activists and advocacy groups after Marysville Municipal Court Judge Michael Grigsby set Hernandez’s bond at $500,000, an amount they say is inordinately high for the charge.
The Honduran Consulate’s office has been asked to help get Angel’s body back to his mother in her home country. Local churches and charities have raised more than $4,700 on the website www.gofundme.com/SendAngelHome to help cover those expenses.
Rutherford donated last night’s service, and a local church paid for the casket, funeral-home director Terry Thomas said.
More than 200 people attended the service, most from the Latino community.
Castro, whose church the Hernandez family has attended, told mourners there are no easy answers. Hernandez and Angel had a wonderful father-son bond, Castro said, one that won’t be broken by tragedy.
“I don’t think his parents named him Angel just because,” Castro said. “I think God wanted him to be an angel, and now he is.”
Hernandez is due back in court on Monday.
After he left last night, his friends, relatives and supporters who have never even met him stood together and sang as one:
Don’t cry anymore for me. I am in a place full of light where peace exists, where there is no evil, where I can rest. Don’t cry for me. It’s beautiful here. I never imagined. I want for you to be happy, for you go along well , and when it’s your turn to part I hope to see you here. Don’t cry for me.
By Holly Zachariah - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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