By Larry Briscoe, Editor
For the nation, the story in Aurora, Colo., this week meant the tragic loss of life. For Melissa Butler Siebenhausen, it meant the loss of her best friend.
W.H. Ford High School graduate of the class of 1997 Rebecca Hernandez Wingo was one of 12 people who died from gunshot wounds in the early morning Friday at the Century 16 Movie Theater in Aurora, Colo. More than 50 others were wounded in the shooting spree.
Hernandez moved to Quinlan with her mother Shirley Wygal, and her brother, Steven Hernandez, when she was 12.
Melissa and “Becky” became friends in the eighth grade. “Tell everyone what a wonderful person she was,” Melissa said as she recalled their friendship throughout school and after.
“We would go around in a mini-van I had,” she said. “We would sing and dance in the car. We would go over to Becky’s house where we spent most of our time. You wouldn’t catch us apart. We were best friends.”
Seen arm-in-arm coming down the hall at school would be Rebecca and Melissa along with Melissa’s sister Leah Butler, Angie Rummins and Gina Pollard.
“If someone were doing something wrong, she would call them out on it and get them back on track.”
“She would lift others up. If we felt like we didn’t measure up, she would make us feel good about ourselves. She was a true friend.”
“We went to the prom together,” Melissa recalled. “Becky said we would not have to worry about dates and that way, we could dance with all the boys.”
She remembered the day Rebecca was elected president of the Future Teachers of America chapter at FHS. Another interest of hers in high school was journalism.
The friendship continued after graduation.
“Right after we graduated from high school, we went to church camp,” Melissa said. “That’s where things changed for us. She became a Christian. If you can imagine Becky’s smile being any brighter than it was before, it was! That was really important to her.”
Two weeks later, Rebecca went to Boot Camp in the U.S. Air Force. She had joined the service while still in high school.
And when Rebecca went, Melissa was ready to sign up and go with her.
“My mom said ‘no you’re not,’” Melissa laughed.
“If Becky put her mind to something, Becky did it,” Melissa said. “She wanted to serve her country. I was so proud of her.”
Rebecca was stationed in many different locations, first in California, later in Hawaii for a few years, and then she was stationed in Aurora, where she decided to stay even after leaving the Air Force. She served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008.
“She absolutely loved it up there,” Melissa said. “They had a great elementary school in Aurora and that appealed to Becky, because her two daughters, ages 9 and 5, were most important to her. Becky also liked the weather and atmosphere.”
Rebecca’s mother later moved to Aurora to help take care of her daughters. Becky had returned to Quinlan for visits more often before her mother’s move to Aurora.
“Her little girls were everything to her,” Melissa said. “Every decision she made was for the girls.”
Melissa suggested donations could be made to an education fund as listed on Melissa’s Facebook page, “529 Fund for the Wingo Girls.” Checks must be made payable to Nebraska Educational Savings Trust. In the memo line, include the account number: Nebraska Educational Savings Trust, NEST Advisor College Savings Plan, P.O. Box 30277, Omaha, Nebr. 68103-1377; account number: 748788940-01, only checks or Paypal account 529 for Wingo Girls.
“She had a really good career in the Air Force,” Melissa said. Rebecca learned to speak Mandarin Chinese and specialized in cryptolinguistics.
“Becky was very intelligent, and so smart. She was a go-getter. She was a firecracker. That’s her. She was unlike anyone you’ve ever met.”
“She had an unbelievable smile. It was contagious. She could walk into a room, and it would light up,” Melissa said. “Everyone who knew her loved her. She was high spirited.”
Although funeral plans were still being made at press time, Melissa said she knew that full military honors had been arranged for a service in Colorado.
She said friends would also hold a memorial service in Quinlan, but it would be at a later date after the funeral, out of respect for the family.
“There are so many people out there whose lives she touched. So many others grieving and sad over losing her, but we should take comfort in knowing that she’s in Heaven looking down on us all. Her light still shines for Him, even in all this darkness,” Melissa said.
Melissa said Rebecca was attending community college in Aurora “and her goal was to work with foster children. That shows what kind of person she was. She was so caring for others.”
QISD issues statement
Quinlan Independent School District Director of School Community Relations Tiffony Upchurch issued this statement, “QISD is very saddened by the loss of Rebecca (Hernandez) Wingo in the Colorado movie massacre, a 1997 Ford High School graduate. She represented her many friends and fellow classmates with honor as she served the United States Air Force upon her graduation. It is always very sad when needless tragedy affects our nation and community. Our deepest sympathies and prayers are extended to her entire family and friends.”
The first report issued by the Aurora Police Department states, “On July 20, 2012, at about 12:39 a.m., police received numerous calls of the shooting. Officers arrived on scene moments after the first calls and arrested one party at the rear of the theater.
“Police were told the suspect ‘appeared’ at the front of one of the theaters, threw some type of gas or explosive device and started shooting.
“When the suspect was arrested, police recovered one rifle, one handgun and a gas mask. A third gun is still inside the theater. The suspect is an adult male Aurora resident in his early twenties. He offered no resistance when he was arrested. At this time, the police have no evidence that any additional suspects were involved other than the person arrested.
“Victims were transported to at least six area hospitals. Many were rushed immediately to hospitals in police cars by responding officers. The injured and dead include a wide age range. The conditions of the injured also vary, with some suffering very serious wounds.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting in this investigation. Officers and deputies responded from almost every local police and sheriffs’ department in the metropolitan area.”
The department identified the suspect as James Eagen Holmes, 24, whose criminal record until that night consisted only of a traffic summons.
A later press release from the police stated, “We are confident that the shooter acted alone. However we are following up on all leads. The suspect deployed two devices in the theater. These devices released some smoke or some sort of irritant. The suspect then opened fire.
“First officers were on scene within a minute and a minute and half of the first 911 call. Officers contacted Holmes outside of the movie theater by his car. He was arrested without incident. There were four guns recovered, one of which was in the theater. The guns included AR 15, shotgun and two handguns. He was outfitted in complete ballistic gear which included a ballistic helmet, vest, shin guards, groin and throat protector. He also had a gas mask.”
Police evacuated residents of the suspect’s apartment building and stated, “The apartment appears to be ‘booby trapped,’ therefore no entry has been made by law enforcement. A robot was sent in and it appears there are several items and devices located within residence.”
Police stated Holmes recently left the University of Colorado Denver’s Graduate Program in Neuroscience voluntarily. “He is originally from Riverside, Calif., and attended the University of California. Neighbors reported that he lived alone and kept to himself,” the release stated.
His first court appearance was Monday morning at which time he was widely described as looking dazed.