In the summer of 1973, four children from Charlotte were orphaned in a bizarre and tragic turn of events at the hands of a man named Leonard Wilson Freeman.
Freeman was on his way to rob a bank in Cotulla, when he passed Deputy Sheriff Luis Garza and his wife, Elida, on the road in Charlotte. The Garzas were on their way to the grocery store, but they never made it. They were taken at gunpoint and murdered by Freeman. The Garza children never saw their parents again, and their lives changed instantly.
Over the years, many have wondered about Luis, Juan, Dora and Maria. Are they ok? Where are they now? Who did they become? The Pleasanton Express recently sat down with Juan Rafael Garza, the second oldest of Luis and Elida’s children, two days before the 44th anniversary of their death.
Garza is an operations manager of DeepWell Energy Services, LLC and now resides in San Antonio. He said his three siblings are doing well and also live in San Antonio.
“Little by little, I’ve been running into family and friends in the area. We get to talking, and they come out and ask me if I was related to so and so, and when I say yes, that’s when the story comes out. They know who I am when the story comes out. They remember,” said Garza.
Garza had turned 10 three weeks before his parents were murdered. Despite sharing only 10 years with his parents, they both left a lasting legacy he has always carried with him.
While researching about his parents over the years, Garza found a lack of details about his mother. He showed a photo he has always carried in his wallet of his mother and him. The photo is partly water-damaged, however, you can still see Elida’s beaming smile.
“She was a sweet lady and always had a smile on her face. It didn’t matter what was going on, she was always smiling,” said Garza.
Elida loved to make tortillas and did so to earn extra money for her family. Garza said a friend growing up wore shoes that were torn and tattered. With some of her earnings, Elida purchased a new pair of shoes for his friend. Garza said she had a helpful heart and asked her why she did things like that.
“She said I was one of the lucky ones. You don’t know how good you have it until you look at the person next to you. I’ll never forget that, and I’ve always thought about that in everything,” said Garza. “My mom, she was just my world. To this day, I miss that lady so much it’s unreal. You always need your mom, even at my age.”
Garza’s father, Luis, who he says is still his role model, taught him lifelong lessons. When making decisions in his life, Garza always considers the lessons his father taught him.
“My last words from him were, ‘If something ever happens to me, I just want you to take care of your sisters and brother. Don’t ever go stealing. Always do the right thing. Help your fellow friends and family and always be there for them. Take pride in what you do,’” said Garza. “He always told me don’t ever try to hurt others by getting ahead of yourself. I’ve always carried that with me. His deal was, he wanted to save the world. If he could make a better world for the next few years, like he would say, that’s all he wanted to do.”
Life After Loss
After their parents’ deaths, life was tough for the Garza children. They lived with their grandparents in Batesville for a time. He said the death of their parents was tough for the entire family to get over. The Garza children lost both their grandmothers in a year after his parents died and were then raised by family members.
The oldest of the Garzas, Luis, joined the Marines at 17. When Rafael was 16 years old, he was on his own, working and helping to take care of his two younger sisters.
“We went through a lot, but, we managed,” Garza said. “I don’t wish this upon anybody. It’s rough for any kid to have to go through stuff like this. You have to become an adult when you are younger.”
God Is Good
After high school, Garza landed a job with Coca-Cola. He retired after 20 years with the company. Garza said he has the highest respect for Coca-Cola because they gave him opportunities he had never had before.
“They got me through school and got me to where I am and the person I am now,” said Garza.
Garza has been married to his wife, Carol, for 32 years. His oldest daughter, Laura, has a three year old son, John Daniel. Their youngest daughter, Danielle, is a college student pursuing a criminal justice degree with hopes of one day becoming a state trooper. As he talked about his family and shared photos, his eyes lit up.
“They are my pride and joy. My family is my whole world,” said Garza.
Life has taken Garza through many ups and downs, but he has managed to lean on his faith in God. He looks at things with the perspective that things could be worse and has fought through it all to keep going.
“It’s been tough and rough, but honestly, you just can’t give up. I’ve done that a couple of times. I’ve only realized that you’re not only taking yourself down but you are taking everyone around you that cares about you down with you,” Garza said. “For some reason, God has put a lot of good people in my path. They see more in me than I see in myself at times.”
Garza said he has made a good life, one he is proud to live, and his parents would have wanted. Garza and his siblings lost their parents at a young age, but he’s always kept them in his heart. His advice to others who have faced similar tragedies: never give up.
“Always believe that your parents are angels and they’re there and will hear you. The answer will come. Your parents, grandparents and siblings are there. There’s reason behind everything, you just have to hold on and figure out what it is,” said Garza.