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Crash Devastates 2nd Family

Boy, 7, Was on Arlington School Bus

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page B01

Maria Garcia fastened a photograph of her cousin Harrison Orosco to a tree in front of his house yesterday morning. Then she walked around the yard and picked up two soccer balls and a volleyball and placed them under the picture of the 7-year-old boy who would not be playing with them anymore.

Harrison, a second-grader at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School in Arlington, died Wednesday night at Children's Hospital, two days after the school bus accident that also killed 9-year-old Lilibeth Gomez.


Maria Garcia, left, and Laurie Granger place flowers on a tree in Harrison's memory. The boy was injured Monday when his school bus crashed. (Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

Harrison's stepsister Milagros Gamboa, 11, who sat next to him on the bus, was released from the hospital Wednesday night and will be fine, the family said. Harrison, who suffered a severe head injury, never regained consciousness.

Thus a second family that immigrated to the United States seeking a better life was facing the bewildering details of planning a funeral and a wake and the wrenching prospect of going on without a child. "We've never been through this. We don't know how it works in this country," said Garcia, 35, who, like Harrison's father, is from Bolivia.

Arlington County police say it will take several weeks to determine what caused the accident, which injured 13 other children and two adults and sent waves of shock and horror through the community.

Family members and friends passed somberly in and out of the small brick and clapboard house Harrison shared with his mother, Marisol Gamboa; his stepfather, Javier Gamboa; and his stepsisters, Milagros and baby Kiera. His father, Grover Orosco, arrived Monday from his home in Pennsylvania.

Some cast a quick, silent glance at the reporters and cameramen in the yard, and Laurie Granger, who has employed Harrison's mother as a nanny for three years, acted as a buffer. But it was almost as hard for her as it was for them.

"I have never seen a mother love a son the way she loved him," Granger said, tears slipping from her eyes. "She lived for him."

Granger described mother and son's last leave-taking on Monday morning. After departing for the school bus, he turned around. "Harrison came back because he wanted to kiss the baby and kiss his mom one more time," she said.

A few relatives stepped outside to recall a boy who was crazy about soccer, Spider-Man and the Hulk but who also loved science and taught his mother, a Peruvian immigrant, to read in English.

In the house, a small shrine displayed photographs of Harrison. Most showed a round-faced boy with a pixie smile, but the last, taken 10 days before he died, showed a hint of the man he might have become: Harrison in a shiny blue and yellow soccer uniform, triumphantly holding a trophy over his head after his team won a championship.

Below lay a lock of Harrison's straight black hair and a new white plaster cast of his hand -- items the hospital gives to the parents of children who die there.

Garcia said Harrison transferred from Abingdon Elementary School to Hoffman-Boston six months ago after the family moved down the street and across a boundary. She said that Harrison did not like the new school and that his mother, who said she was not told about the transfer, was trying to get him reassigned. Garcia added that Harrison had recently complained that his bus was late getting to school and had switched drivers several times.

Arlington schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos said students cannot be transferred without their parents registering them in the new school, but she noted that the process can be complicated. "It could be a case that the family really was confused," she said. She said that bus drivers sometimes cover each other's routes and that substitutes might not know the routes as well.

This week, the Hoffman-Boston PTA started a fund at BB&T for crash victims. An anonymous donor is paying for Lilibeth's funeral, and Erdos said Al Leach, owner of Al's Towing in Falls Church, called to say he and his employees had raised $4,000 for Harrison's funeral and were soliciting more from other towing companies. Another company, CSS Air Conditioning, has raised $3,000 for Harrison's funeral expenses, Erdos said.

On the front lawn, Carmen Calvimontes, a family friend, talked about Marisol Gamboa, 27, who left her homeland to start a family in a place that offered a better education and a better life. "This child," she said, gripping Harrison's photo, "could have been the president." Then her face collapsed with grief.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company