Hundreds of friends and relatives gathered Saturday morning at the Jubilee Christian Center in South Austin to remember Christy Lynne Espinosa's bright smile and big heart, even as they cried at the sight of her closed white casket, decorated with carnations and roses.
"Remembering her should not be about the day she died," Pastor Jimmy Seal said to a standing-room only sanctuary. "It should be about the lives this young, vivacious young lady touched."
Espinosa's body was found on fire at 5 a.m. Wednesday when Austin firefighters responded to a call about a grassfire in the 6000 block of North Imperial Drive. Her death is being investigated as a homicide.
Officials with the Travis County sheriff's office have said that she was last seen early Wednesday celebrating Mardi Gras at East Sixth and Trinity streets.
"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people," Espinosa's grandfather, John Sandoval, said.
He described his granddaughter as a helpful, sweet young woman. As a child, she attended Boone and Covington elementary schools and was once voted class clown, Seal said. He described her as a "happy child with a heart of gold."
Her family would take her and her younger sister, Caitlin, to church. Members of the congregation said Saturday that Christy sat quietly and reverently among the adults instead of going to children's church.
"There are just some students you don't forget," said Jan Conroy, who taught Espinosa in fourth grade. In her kitchen, for years, Conroy said she has kept the teacher doll decorated with hearts that Espinosa bought with her own money and gave to Conroy on Valentine's Day almost a decade ago. "This just breaks my heart, because she was so special."
During her high school years, Espinosa was a member of Crockett High School's Tex-Ann Dance Team, and teachers said she graduated from the high school in 2005.
In recent years, Espinosa had worked at Luby's as a waitress, Sandoval said. She sometimes offered her hard-earned money to less fortunate classmates so that they could eat, he said. He said that she wanted to go to college but she had not yet pursued her degree.
Espinosa had also had at least one run-in with the law in June 2007, when she was arrested on misdemeanor theft and drug charges. She was accused of stealing tennis shoes from a store and possessing Xanax and less than half an ounce of marijuana. According to public records, she was sentenced in February to seven months probation.
A friend of Espinosa's, Andy Treviño, tearfully spoke about how special she was to him. "She'll never be forgotten," he said. Espinosa is survived by her mother, Diana Cobb Espinosa, her father, Antonio Espinosa and her sister, Caitlin Espinosa.
Anyone with information about Espinosa's case is asked to call Detective Greg Lawson at 854-3426 or CrimeStoppers at 472-8477.
Joshunda Sanders; firstname.lastname@example.org; 445-3630
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Feb. 28 to Mar. 5, 2009.