On April 10, 2018, Clarissa Torres’ life changed forever.
She was at a ball game at Salpointe Catholic High School with her older son when she received a call from her brother-in-law.
There was a crash on South Mission Road at West Irvington Place, and her baby boy, Gabriel, was thrown from the vehicle. So was her husband, who was driving. A teen-age boy driving on Mission T-boned her husband’s vehicle, authorities said.
Torres left the game and happened to follow an ambulance on North Mountain Avenue that was carrying 7-month-old Gabriel to emergency at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson. The mother saw and followed her son who was surrounded by medical personnel working to revive him. She begged that they continue but more than 20 minutes had passed, and the baby did not respond. Gabriel Torres was pronounced dead.
The mother was allowed to stay holding her baby in a private pediatric room where she remained for hours until early the next morning.
The years of tears, anger, pain and depression have subsided. However, Torres still has her moments. The bad moments of losing baby Gabriel come when she least expects it. It can be triggered by a sound or an image.
Tribute to son
She wants to honor Gabriel’s memory by giving back to children in need.
“I want to let kids know that they are loved. I lost my son, but he is helping so many other kids,” said Torres of the annual toy drive she founded in her son’s honor. “I can’t see my son smile, laugh and be happy, but I can see other children smile.”
Baby Gabriel loved to play with toys. Nine businesses in the Tucson area participate in the toy drive and accept a box for donations. (See attached info box.)
She then searched for the perfect organization to receive the toys and monetary donations given by businesses and the community. Torres drops off the toys every year on Aug. 25 — Gabriel’s birthday — at Aviva Children’s Services, 153 S. Plumer Ave. Gabriel would have turned 4 years old this year.
The nonprofit Aviva, which is a subsidiary of Easterseals Blake Foundation, provides services to children in foster care, children who are neglected or abused and those in the care of the state’s Department of Child Safety.
“Gabriel’s memory is serving Southern Arizona children in foster care and their families,” said Yvette Hart, coordinator of visitation outreach at Aviva. “We are so grateful that this family continues to think of us and the children that we serve,” said Hart about Torres and her relatives and friends who have dropped off hundreds of toys, and nearly $1,000 in donations over the years.
The board games, trucks, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, shoes and clothing go to children in need not only in Pima County, but also Santa Cruz, Cochise and Yuma counties, said Hart. Most of the items are given to children at Christmas.
On Wednesday, Aviva staff sang “Happy Birthday” in memory of Gabriel at the agency’s office and gave the Torres family blue balloons that were released outdoors.
Strength to continue
After the crash, Torres suffered depression.
“I didn’t want to get out of bed. I cried all the time,” she said. The mother said her two older children gave her strength. A daughter, 20, is a corrections officer at Arizona State Prison Complex-Tucson on South Wilmot Road, and a son, 18, is attending Arizona State University and plans on becoming a physician.
“They were my motivation to get up and shower and leave my house,” said Torres. “Then I found out I was pregnant with my daughter four months later,” she said of her now 2-year-old girl who brings more light into Torres’ life. She said the pregnancy “forced me to find my will to live because I couldn’t go through losing another child.”
Torres eventually left her job as an administrative assistant in the pathology department at Banner-UMC.
“I had to quit my job after 12 years. I couldn’t work where my baby died,” she said. More than a year later, she went back to work at an eye care and surgery center.
She found solace undergoing counseling and joining a Facebook group of other grieving parents who lost children.
“You don’t get out of depression. You can’t get over losing a child. You don’t just move on. You just continue getting up every day and do what you have to do for your other children,” she explained.
“Depression hits you when you don’t even know,” Torres said. “You get a gulp in your throat. You hear a siren, and you think of your son. You see an ambulance and you think of your son.”
Torres, who is going through a divorce, said her husband had never picked up baby Gabriel from the babysitter before that deadly day. He pled guilty to child endangerment for not properly buckling baby Gabriel in the car seat, and for driving under the influence of marijuana. He received probation. The case regarding the teen driver of the vehicle that collided with the vehicle Gabriel was in remains under litigation.
Gabriel lives on
“Even though my son lived a short time, my son lived. And he will continue to live through other kids. He will never be forgotten,” said Torres. She admits she still questions God about her son’s death. She admits the first time she returned to church after the crash, she walked out during the sermon when the preacher talked about children not belonging to those on earth, rather the children belong to God.
“I couldn’t listen … but then I thought about it, and I realized I am blessed. I am blessed I had Gabriel for seven months. I am blessed I was his mother,” she said.
“The only answer I can think of to why Gabriel died is that he was too perfect for this world,” Torres said. “God needed him for a bigger purpose.”
Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @cduartestar