A Belen High School student lost her life Thursday night in a one-vehicle roll-over accident on her way home from a school choir concert.
Jessica Mora, 17, of Adelino died instantly when she was ejected from her boyfriend’s truck on NM 47. State Police Lt. Robert Shilling said Mora and her boyfriend, Mark Archuleta, 18, of Albuquerque, were northbound around 8:50 p.m. when the accident occurred, near mile marker 21.
“The driver (Archuleta) tried to avoid a dog on the highway, and his evasive action caused the vehicle to roll twice,” Shilling said. “It caused the victim (Mora) to eject out of the vehicle. She was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Shilling said neither Mora nor Archuleta were wearing their seatbelts. Archuleta was taken by Lifeguard helicopter to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and is currently listed in stable condition.
Mora was a junior at Belen High School, and her death has affected the entire student body. She was a member of the varsity cheerleading squad and the school’s concert choir.
“She just had that bubbly personality that made all the students feel comfortable around her,” said Marie Smrt, the school’s chorus teacher. “In fact, the students would say how sweet she was and would call her Sugar. Her smile was contagious, and, every time she walked into the room, she would brighten everyone’s day.”
Less than two hours before Mora lost her life, she was on stage singing in front of an audience. Smrt said Jessica was very excited to perform and had bought a new white dress to wear for the concert.
“Her group was the first to perform, and they sang ‘Far and Away’ and ‘Scarborough Fair,'” Smrt said. “This was one of the best concerts we had ever had.”
Smrt said Mora was a role model and a leader to the other choir students in the class. She said the students looked to her for guidance about overcoming their shyness.
“She was never afraid of getting out in front of the audience to perform,” Smrt said. “She was an important part of our choir program and the school. She was truly a blessing to all of us.”
Mora’s parents, William and Sandra, said in a telephone interview they didn’t want to comment on their daughter’s death, but her father did say, “She was a loving daughter, and it’s a tragedy that these kinds of accidents happen.”
Albert Martinez, the school’s journalism teacher, also said Mora will be missed. Martinez got to know Mora when she was his student at Belen Middle School.
“She was definitely a free spirit,” Martinez said. “She was a bundle of energy, and she just lived life to the fullest. She was spontaneous, fun-loving and was always laughing.”
Mora’s classmates learned of her death Friday morning during a special assembly at the school. Students were shocked and dismayed at the news, and councilors were on hand to assist them with their grief.
Mora is the third student at Belen High School to have perished in a span of five weeks. Superintendent Don Duran said the staff and councilors were once again called in to try and help with the students’ grief.
“The death of students is always a devastation to any community,” said Belen Superinten-dent Don Duran. “I’m very proud of our councilors, our administration and our staff for providing the support that our students need to get through these very difficult times.”
A large poster was hung in the front office of the high school Friday for students to write messages about Mora. The poster will be given to her family.
Peggy Gutjahr, the district’s health services director, said a letter was sent home with every student notifying parents about what had happened.
“We’ve told the kids if they can’t talk to the councilors, they should talk with each other, a teacher, their parents or an adult they feel comfortable with,” Gutjahr said. “They shouldn’t be alone with this. They need to talk with someone and share their feelings.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.