Seated in her favorite chair in the kitchen, Mary Moreno was sipping her morning coffee when her daughter and caretaker stepped outside to pick up a package left outside the front door of their East Austin home.
Moreno, 93, often received packages of medicine and clothes, so nothing seemed amiss to Esperanza “Hope” Herrera, who had been taking care of her full time for the past five years.
Within seconds, Herrera became a victim in a series of bombing attacks across Austin that killed two and injured five.
Moreno was not wearing her hearing aid at the time, but the sounds she heard next were so loud that it didn’t matter.
An explosion, like a water heater bursting. Then, Moreno remembers hearing Herrera screaming “Take my mother out” to neighbors who had heard the noise and rushed outside.
Moreno, who seldom walks because of a bad hip, reached for her walker and tried to get to Herrera, but shrapnel and debris had covered the pathway through the living room that led to the door.
She made her way outside through a side door. She later told family that “God took her” to the front of the house, where she saw her daughter, bloodied and lying on the ground.
Since the March 12 blast, Herrera, 75, has undergone as many as 14 surgeries and requires specialized therapy and wound treatments to stay alive, according to a GoFundMe account set up by her family to raise money for medical expenses. The account so far has raised $110,229 and still is accepting donations.
Seventeen-year-old Draylen Mason and 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House were killed by the first and second bombs before the bomber blew himself up March 21 as police closed in, injuring an officer.
Mason’s mother, Shamika Wilson, who was injured in the explosion that killed her son, was at home healing as of an April update to a GoFundMe account.
INTERACTIVE: Timeline of the Austin bombings
About two months after the bombings that terrorized the Austin area for weeks, Moreno and her family are still struggling to make sense of what happened.
One of her daughters, Zulema Prado, 71, who came from her home in Rosemead, Calif., just after the bombing to take over as caretaker for Moreno, said she often finds herself wondering, “Why here?” and “Why my sister?”
“It’s just been hard to accept it,” Prado said, her voice cracking.
A weekslong vigil
Moreno insisted on visiting her daughter every day at the hospital, sometimes for up to 12 hours at a time, even as family urged her to leave for her own health, Prado said.
“She’s just happy that my sister’s still alive,” Prado said. “She wants to be there any chance there is.”
In the weeks immediately after the attack, Moreno was so traumatized that at first she couldn’t imagine ever returning to the home she’s lived in since 1961 and asked her daughters to sell it, said Moreno family friend and spokesman Herman Lopez.
“Her mind was just every which way and worried about Hope; it was to a point that she told her daughters she didn’t even want to see this house,” Lopez said. “She didn’t want those memories. … She didn’t know (family members) were doing a lot of repairs. It took a good while for her daughters to convince her.”
Federal and local authorities took over the home for about two weeks, Lopez said. When the family was able to return, they replaced the front door and storm door, thanks to donations from Home Depot and the city, and installed Ring, a video doorbell system with lights. They rehung security bars over the front window that had fallen; the window somehow survived the blast.
Some reminders are less escapable. Family members cleaned the living room couch, which was studded with shrapnel, but they say they’re still finding small pieces of broken glass and metal in it.
The house’s broken plumbing also has complicated life for Prado and Moreno. The kitchen sink doesn’t drain, forcing them to carry out and dump buckets of dirty water outside.
“It’s difficult for both of them, especially her as a caretaker, because for the last two months they have had serious backed-up plumbing,” Lopez said. “They don’t have the resources or the money” to fix it.
Prado and Moreno’s daughter Erlinda Rizo often puzzle over questions they know might go unanswered forever.
“We sit there and think, ‘I wonder what time he put that box there?’” said Rizo, 74. “‘Was it 12, was it 2 or 3?’”
Their family has talked with the families of other bombing victims and continues to keep them in their prayers. They sometimes wonder if the family of confessed bomber Mark Conditt will reach out. They haven’t so far.
STATESMAN IN-DEPTH: Inside the Austin bomber’s life: Questions of friends, faith, sexuality
Their main focus these days, though, is Herrera’s recovery. They declined to give details about her condition, out of respect for her privacy, but Prado said she remains hopeful.
“I saw her recovering,” she said, “and I felt — for her, there’s a second chance.”