From the 103rd Street Corona Plaza to Junction Boulevard along Roosevelt Avenue, young men wearing Guatemalan flag capes and holding neon pink and orange signs stood near the 7 train tracks.
On one of the signs is printed, in Spanish: “Thank you for your help! Every person has a purpose in life, but not everyone fulfills it. Yesica left this dream half way, no one deserves to die that way. We appreciate your help to give her a Christian burial in her land where her family is. Thank you!!!”
Yésica Marleny Ajtzac Guarcas was struck by a train at the 74th Street Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights station on Tuesday morning. Officials pronounced her dead at the scene. Ajtzac Guarcas, initially identified by police and multiple media outlets to be a 10-year-old, was 17 years old, family members and neighbors told Epicenter. She is survived by her parents and three older siblings, two sisters and a brother.
“I have no words other than gratitude for those who want to help us with just one dollar, two dollars,” Maria Guarcas told Epicenter in Spanish. “My little sister died and I still can’t believe it. Even though it’s not the same, I hope to God we can at least have her body with us back in Guatemala.”
When neighbors heard the news, they took on the mantle to help Yésica’s sister and cousins send her body back to her parents in Guatemala. Many of the volunteers are young Guatemalan men who have been taking turns standing on corners with signs and donation cans since Wednesday morning along Roosevelt Avenue and in front of a nearby church. On Thursday evening, passersby, many of them Latin American immigrants, slipped dollar bills into the donation bins.
“Death doesn’t warn us, and now her family has no money [for the funeral arrangements],” Yovany, a volunteer who did not give his last name for privacy reasons, told Epicenter in Spanish. “We wanted to find a way to ask people for help out of the goodness of their hearts, whatever they could, whether some money or comfort for the family.”
He said community members, primarily immigrants of Colombian, Mexican, Ecuadorian and Guatemalan descent, had donated since he and fellow volunteers had been out.
“Some of these people, when they get off work, are giving everything they can … even if they’re left with nothing in their wallet,” Yovany added.
One Spanish-speaking young girl selling candy on the street stopped to ask Yovany what had happened to the girl on the poster. “She’s in another place,” he told her.
Yésica was on her way to work at a restaurant around 6:30 a.m. when she reportedly fainted and fell. An MTA video that has circulated on social media shows her falling onto the train tracks. As Univision first reported, family members are asking why the detective on the case denied their request to access the footage — they would need to go through a lawyer, they were reportedly told — when a part of that video was already released.
Another video, released on TikTok and showing graphic details of Yésica’s injuries and death, has horrified her family, including her parents living in Guatemala. Now all they want is closure, including their daughter’s body returned to them.
The funeral will cost about $8,000, plus the additional costs to send her body back to Guatemala along with family members, Yovany told Epicenter. As of Tuesday, Oct. 24, the campaign reached its initial goal.
Anyone who would like to contribute additional funds can do so through her sister, Elvira Ajtzac, via GoFundMe or Zelle at 929-636-5283.
This post has been updated with details on the status of the fundraising campaign.