If things had gone according to plan, 8-year-old Sender Ivann Salguero Mencia would have had dinner and attended midnight Christmas Eve services at church with his family. Then he'd have gone to bed, excited about the treasures he'd uncover on Christmas Day.
But Christmas never came for this Greenbriar family. On Dec. 24 around 5:45 p.m., young Sender was struck by a car on Route 50 east in Fair Oaks and died just after midnight, leaving all who loved him devastated.
"There can't be anything worse than losing a son or daughter," said his father, Sender Salguero. "You know that someday you'll lose your father or mother. But the tradition is my children will bury me, not me bury my son."
Fairfax County police say the child was trying to cross the eastbound lanes of Route 50 near Middle Ridge Drive when the tragedy occurred. He and his brother Christian, 11, and two other boys had crossed the westbound lanes during a red light.
But when the light turned green, police say three of the boys stopped in the median, but Sender "ran into the path" of a 1993 Ford Mustang driven by a 28-year-old Burke man. Sender was medevaced to Inova Fairfax Hospital, but his injuries were too severe and he died early Christmas morning.
According to police, speed and alcohol were not factors, but Sender's father said there were no skid marks on the road showing any attempt by the driver to stop. "I'd like someone to explain to me how it happened," said Salguero. "My son is almost 4 1/2 feet high; I don't know how the driver didn't see him."
SENDER WAS a third-grader at Greenbriar East Elementary and, said Principal Linda Cohen, "It was heartwrenching [to learn of his death]. He was a sweet, little boy — just delightful. He had an endearing smile and was a student eager to learn."
She said the school plans some type of remembrance of him, such as a tree planted in his honor. Said Cohen: "To watch a tree grow along with the school would be very fitting."
Salguero is originally from Guatemala, and his wife Lesbia, from Honduras. They lived in Greenbriar 13 years, and sixth-grader Christian also attends Greenbriar East.
The family owns a body shop in Manassas and both parents worked there. In the evenings, they'd all eat dinner with Sender's paternal grandparents in the Townes of Greenbriar community off Route 50 and Middle Ridge, and the boys would play football outside.
Salguero said Sender — or, as he's known at home, Ivancito — wanted to someday take over the shop. "He used to come and visit me there on Saturdays," said his father. Sunday was their only day off, and Sender enjoyed going out with his family. "His favorite place was Chuckie Cheese in Herndon, where we used to live," said Salguero. "He especially liked the car games."
On Christmas Eve, said Salguero, "My dad came to our home for lunch about 1 p.m., but Sender didn't eat because he'd snacked before. Then both boys decided to go over to their grandparents' house to play. They played in front of their townhouse often, but I would never let them cross Route 50; I didn't know they had done it."
Salguero later learned that his sons, a 16-year-old cousin and a 13-year-old neighbor played basketball that afternoon at a church across Route 50 from their grandparents' house. Afterward, when they crossed the road to return there, said Salguero, "Sender got hungry and was in a rush to get to his grandparents' to go eat at McDonald's — his favorite place."
The Salgueros planned to pick up their children, get changed, have dinner at the grandparents' house and then attend Christmas Eve services at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas. Then came Sender's accident.
"He hit the front of the car and the windshield and landed on the pavement," said Salguero, his voice heavy with grief. "His injury was to the back of his head. The other kids said he lifted his head, went back down and closed his eyes. He was breathing with a machine in the hospital, but the doctor said there was no coming back — he was brain dead. We're praying that he didn't have any pain."
Salguero said the family's still in shock and having a tough time accepting what happened. "Christian doesn't talk too much about it, but we're getting professional help for him — for all of us," said Salguero. "They were really close; my older son is devastated."
THE FAMILY ATTENDED a vigil for Sender at All Saints on New Year's Eve and, said Salguero, "It was hard. Everyone was praying and talking about my son as still being alive."
When asked how the family can cope with such a loss, he said, "God gives you the strength and the power. We are Catholic and, right now, we have never been so close to God. We're going to church even more now and praying a lot, and it helps us heal."
A Mass of Christian Burial was said for Sender on Dec. 29 at All Saints, with burial following at Stonewall Memory Gardens in Manassas. Besides his immediate family, he's survived by his paternal grandparents, Samuel and Tona Salguero, and maternal grandmother, Oneyda Reyes.
But the family has found it too painful to return to their house for more than a few hours at a time. Instead, they're temporarily staying with relatives.
"Whenever we walk inside the house, we cry," said Salguero. "Every step we take, there's a memory there. We thought about selling the house, but I don't want to give up my son's memories."
Trying to make sense of it all — why his child was taken at such a young age, Salguero said, "We believe he was special and God needed him. We believe our son is up there helping God. He's OK and happy, but he misses us, too, and he's with us every step of the way."
"My wife believes she's going to see him again and he's going to come back and explain what happened and why him," continued Salguero. "And we do believe that we'll be together again someday and we have an angel looking out for us."