East Texas community shows support for victims of deadly bus crash

The outpouring of support continues in East Texas for family and friends of a 13-year-old boy who lost his life in a school bus accident. 

Father Nolan Lowry of St. Edwards Catholic Church in Athens dedicated Sunday’s mass to Christopher Bonilla. Father Lowry says he was an active member of the church as a former altar boy and current youth leader.

“The biggest tragedy of Friday is that there’s a little boy with us who’s not with this life in this life right now. Christopher Bonilla one of our own,” he said during the mass.

Bonilla was killed when the Athens ISD school bus he and his 9-year-old cousin Joselyne Torres were riding in was hit broadside by a Union Pacific Train as it crossed the tracks, just blocks from their home.

Torres remains hospitalized in Dallas in critical condition. Investigators say the 78-year-old driver was ejected from the bus and was not seriously injured.

“This was an accident, it should not have happened and I think we need to have our wits about us and our senses because everyone's very emotional right. People have been very, very unkind about the bus driver,” said Father Lowry.

The locations surrounding the crash scene remain blocked off. Bonilla was a 7th grader at Athens Middle School. Athens ISD asked students to wear maroon to remember and honor Bonilla and show support for the families, as his cousin fights for her life.

The public outpouring of support was difficult to hide as hundreds of people from all across East Texas came to Athens Custom T-shirt Store to buy maroon clothing. The store is normally closed on weekends, but opened to sell it`ems at 50% off. The line wrapped around the building and included people like Athens Resident Venita Fizer.

“There’s people from Eustace, Murchison, Mabank, Malakoff, Crossroads All of those schools all of are choosing, asking their children to wear a maroon for the Athens tragedy,” she said.

“My son goes to the junior high here,” said Athens Resident Shonda Ward, “And my brother and I have family that have kittens surrounding schools and so it’s just important for everybody around here to support Athens and all the tragedy that happened.”

The vast majority of people did not know the families involved.

“I work at Mabank independent schools and it’s important for us to support our neighboring community. To be a family to them at this time,” said Pennie Milligan. 

Misty Smiley of Crossroads summed up the show of support.

“Christopher could've been anybody's child. You know, small towns we build each other up.”

School districts across East Texas are planned to join Athens and wear maroon as well to show the Bonilla and Torres families they are not alone in these difficult times.

Athens ISD planned to have grief counselors available for students all week.

Father Lowry says Bonilla’s funeral arrangements have not been finalized.