Family, friends struggle to cope with PSJA alum’s death - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Family, friends struggle to cope with PSJA alum’s death

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Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2019 8:00 pm

SAN JUAN — As a slideshow of Leonardo Campos Jr. played, the Memorial Funeral Home chapel here glowed in a dim blue hue from the stained glass windows of the building. Photos of Campos passed, most of them group photos.

A week ago, Campos, affectionately known as Leo by many, and his wife Maribel, were shot dead at Walmart in El Paso in a shooting that left 22 people dead. A service for the 41-year-old Pharr native was held there Thursday, and his body arrived in San Juan the following day for a viewing here Saturday afternoon.

His casket was escorted by the San Juan Police Department, and the funeral home hosted the service at no charge.

Through photos, those who came to show their respects caught a glimpse of who Leo was to many: a teammate, a dance partner, a friend, stepfather and son.

In one photo, Leo was wearing a Pharr-San Juan-Alamo football uniform, running towards the field alongside his teammates. Retired PSJA football coach, Gilbert Tijerina, was at the viewing and said he thought that the next time he would see his kicker, the two would be able to play ball.

“He was a high school student the last time I saw him. This is not how I thought our reunion would be,” Tijerina said, through tears. “When I got that call, it was like someone hit me with a hammer to my heart.”

Though Leo was wearing a Bears football helmet in the picture, his heart was on the soccer field, Tijerina, 68, said. Leo, who graduated in 1996 from PSJA High, was the school’s soccer team goalie.

Tijerina remembers Leo showed up to football try-outs with his soccer bag. However, he added, Leo’s passion to soccer did not compromise his commitment to football.

“He was the one who stood beside me on the sidelines,” said Tijerina, who considered Leo a son. “He was a quiet kid, but not on the field. There, he would be next to me saying ‘I’m ready, I’m ready I’m ready,’ and I would tell him, ‘Wait, be patient.”

And that’s another thing Tijerina said he would always remember about Leo, he was always ready.

“When the school bell rang at 3 o’clock, I would go to change right away, but by the time I went onto the field, he was already there, he just wanted to play.”

When asked what he would tell Leo if he was still alive, Tijerina said he would go straight for a hug — Leo was known as a hugger.

“He would come to me and hug me, he always did,” he said with a smile.

Leo was currently in school to become a coach, and would have graduated next year.

About six years ago, he moved to El Paso with his wife, who grew up there and has four children. Many of his coworkers at TriWest Healthcare Alliance in El Paso traveled to San Juan for the service. Leo was recently promoted to a manager position and would have started next Monday.

Jesus Campos, Leo’s younger brother, said he remembers how caring his brother was, despite their rough horseplay as children.

“When my parents would go to the store, he would be the one to take care of us, and we would wrestle a lot,” he said.

Growing up, the brothers, including David Campos, the middle brother, would watch World Wrestling Federation together, pretending the living room couches made up a wrestling ring.

“We would say we were standing at the highest part of the ring, and throw ourself down,” Jesus, 35, said. “And he would be there to catch you, he would always be there to catch you.”

Jesus said after Leo moved, they had a routine of calling each other every Sunday afternoon. That was the time of the week when they caught up and talked about work and family. Jesus said Leo was a good listener, saying it’s hard to believe he can no longer call his older brother.

“It’s just a thing you wish didn’t happen,” Jesus said. “You wish you had a crystal ball to see the future, so you had time to call him and tell him, ‘Don’t show up here this day.’”

Just two weeks ago, Leo visited his family in the Rio Grande Valley for a barbecue at his mother’s house. There, Jesus said they exchanged stories and reminisced about memories.

“He was the best brother ever. I could not have asked for a better brother,” he said.

cdeguzman@themonitor.com

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