It was supposed to be a night of joy and celebration. Just 20 days ago, Marisa Bocanegra met her Colombian mother for the first time since she was abducted as a baby and illegally put up for adoption.
But the night before Marisa had planned on telling her powerful story at Nueva Jerusalem Church in Faribault, the 39-year-old mother was killed in a car crash.
From flowers to balloons, the church was decorated in yellow, blue and red – the colors of the Colombian flag. It's what Marisa wanted.
"Every single moment [with Marisa] was a beautiful moment," said Elsy Tueta, Marisa's mother, through a translator. She wore a white winter jacket Marisa got her to keep warm through the Minnesota winter.
She and her son (Marisa's brother) Juan Pablo have both been staying with Marisa since arriving in Minneapolis on Nov. 10. They had planned to spend the next two months together, making up for 39 years of lost time.
Looking back on his memories with Marisa, Juan Pablo couldn't help but laugh. Just like siblings who've known each other their entire lives, the two shared many jokes and laughs in their short time together.
"[Marisa] was even crying because she was laughing so hard," Juan Pablo said, reflecting on one of his favorite moments. "It was a very happy moment. Very happy."
Juan Pablo was also dressed in clothing Marisa had picked out for him. He wore a black, zip-up hoodie that said "Minnesota" on the front. Under that, he wore a shirt with the state outline, colored in with the Colombian flag colors. It was the same shirt Marisa wore the first time she spoke with GoMN.
You can watch the four-part video series documenting her story here.
Never give up
Other than finally meeting her birth mother, Marisa – whose birth name is Ana Maria – said one of her biggest hopes was to support and inspire others.
She worked as domestic violence and sexual assault advocate, did deaf interpreting services on a freelance basis, and volunteered as an instructor and horse leader with RideAbility, an equine therapy nonprofit.
Marisa told GoMN over the summer, before she had physically met her mom or brother, that she hoped her story would inspire people to never give up – especially Colombian adoptees, like herself, who are searching for their families.
"I want to be the person of support that they can go to," Marisa had said.
And she was.
Two young women traveled more than an hour to attend the ceremony. They had never met Marisa, but were touched by her story of perseverance and inspired to find their own Colombian birth families.
More on the aftermath
Marisa's teenage daughter was also injured in the crash. Family members say she was put into a coma Wednesday, but is in stable condition.