http://www.hcnonline.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18913039&BRD=1574&PAG=461&dept_id=532238&rfi=6Vigil inspires many to continue search
By JOHN DAVID SUAYAN, Reporter
A rally. A block party. A prayer circle.
The candlelight vigil in the parking lot of Elim Church in Houston for missing Pasadena teenager Ryan Esparza Thursday night took on the air of such and more.
If there is anything the event was not, it was no farewell.
"We had this candlelight vigil tonight not as a memorial service, but just more of a remembrance that he is still missing," said Gloria Esparza, Ryan's mother. "We are still looking. We have to bring him home. We are trying to get people involved again, and we figured this is one way to do it."
Vanessa Esparza, Ryan's older sister, echoes the same sentiments.
"We are dealing with this the best as we can," she said. "Ryan is still missing. I do not want him to be forgotten."
It has been 17 weeks since anyone has seen or heard from Ryan, 17. He disappeared from Highland Park near Southmore the afternoon of June 14 after talking to a friend there for about 20 minutes.
Since then, law enforcement, family, friends, and Texas Equusearch, a local search organization that aims to find missing people internationally, have been looking for him.
The same parking lot that served as a command post for search efforts a little more than three months ago became of use again for the Esparza family as numerous relatives, friends, classmates, and well-wishers of the Pasadena High School student gathered amidst a beautiful sunset to celebrate a remarkable young man and renew their commitment of ensuring his safe return home.
"Tonight (was) not meant to be sad," said Vanessa Esparza, who was instrumental in planning the vigil.
Upbeat hip-hop and Latin tunes filled the air. People of all ages mingled. The family comforted and encouraged.
Vanessa Esparza said that Ryan would have gladly taken in the lively atmosphere.
"He is the life of the party," she said.
As the sun descended further toward the west, a bright sea of candles began to illuminate the parking lot. The Esparzas then called the attendees together for words of gratitude, prayers, and a moment of silence.
Tears and laughter were shared along with precious memories of a person whom family members described as smart, wise, charming, caring, and full of life.
His sister held back the urge to cry as she spoke lovingly of their bond.
"He is my little man," said Vanessa Esparza, recalling numerous trips with Ryan to the store. "I am sure he is everyone's little man. He takes good care of the family. I love him and I miss him. He is out there somewhere. With God's grace, he will come home to us."
Gloria Esparza feels the huge void "her baby" Ryan left.
"That is my boy," said his mom. "I miss so much. I miss him more today than I did yesterday."
So does his older brother, David Esparza, Jr.
"I really hope one day he comes back," he said. "It is hard to continue without him because we are so close. We have a bond like no other."
His father, David Esparza, Sr., thinks of Ryan as a happy guy.
"Ryan is full of joy," he said, recounting a dream he had nights ago in which his youngest child came home.
Ryan's cousin, Albert Gomez, considers him a brother.
"In reality, we are more like brothers. He is always there," said Gomez. "To know that he is not around is sad.
Until my last day, I will keep on looking for him."
An aunt of Ryan's said the lad taught her a very valuable lesson.
"Never take your family for granted," she said. "Love them. Keep in contact as much as you can. That is the one thing that Ryan did teach me."
The Esparzas asked everyone throughout the evening to keep on doing their part in the search for Ryan. Fliers were set on a table for distribution.
Within the clear sense of loss, new hope sprung recently with the latest addition to the Esparza family. Newborn Ryan Jacob Esparza, Jr. attended the vigil for his father with his mother, Ryan's girlfriend.
The family believes Ryan, Jr. will inspire many to continue on with the search as well as remind everyone of Ryan.
"We do have somebody who is a legacy left behind," said proud grandmother Gloria Esparza. "We are going to enjoy him every day. I am sure he is going to do everything that Ryan did and more."
Samantha Flores was touched by the huge turnout, but wants something more important for her and their child.
"I hope he comes back for everyone and his baby," she said as she gently cradled Ryan, Jr. in her arms.Anyone with information about Ryan's whereabouts is asked to contact 713-820-5173, 832-893-5065, or the Pasadena Police Department at 713-477-1221.