Students’ balloons say goodbye to classmate taken by leukemia

HARLINGEN — Scott Swinnea remembered how his young student would breeze into class right before noon.

“Good morning,” Juan Palacios, 17, would tell him before taking his seat.

Swinnea, Juan’s history teacher, would look at his watch.

“Yeah, you’re right, it’s 11:58,” he’d tell Juan. He’d look at his watch a couple of minutes later and say, “Good afternoon, Juan,” to which the young man would reply, “Yeah, you’re right.”

These are the fond memories teachers and students shared yesterday during a memorial for Juan, a junior at Harlingen High School, who died Monday of leukemia. There had already been a rosary and visitation Tuesday, and students gathered in front of the school to release balloons in his memory.

“Peace,” wrote one girl on a blue balloon with a magic marker.

“Prayers to his family,” wrote another.

Kelxie Casanova remembered fondly her friend who sat next to her in algebra class.

“He was very happy and very friendly,” said Kelxie, 17, a junior.

“He liked to do these drawings and he always put others before him,” she said. “He was really a nice person and he would always ask questions.”

So positive was Juan’s outlook that many didn’t know he was sick shortly before his death.

“He was diagnosed a year ago,” said Principal Imelda Munivez.

“He started off the school year and he was in class until right before Thanksgiving,” she said.

Losing a student in the prime of life is “tough,” she said.

“It’s really hard, especially at this time of year,” she said. “It’s very difficult but I am just amazed to see our students and staff come together in support.”

Swinnea expressed a strong faith as he remembered a promising young student.

“I am a Christian so I know he’s in a better place,” he said. “I’m sad for the family.”

Swinnea said a short prayer and then the students released colorful balloons that quickly rose into the sky. The observance was followed by a funeral Mass in San Benito and then burial in La Feria.


“Heaven gains another angel”

“You will always be with us”

“You will be missed”

“Fly with the angels”