A community garden constructed on the demolished site of the apartment where death row inmate John Allen Rubio once lived with his wife and three children was flourishing with plots of vegetables grown and maintained by residents on Thursday morning.

A group of several volunteers worked to pull up a garden bed where they planned to place new fruit trees, herbs, bougainvilleas, and butterfly plants in an ongoing effort to beautify the space in memory of the three children slain by Rubio and his wife in March 2003.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz arrived from his office to watch the project begin. “Every day, for years, I would stop at this stop sign and relive and rethink what we read, what we saw, and what we learned about the case,” he said.

“This is a case that has left a mark on the community, on law enforcement, and the world. What better way to carry on their innocent lives by bringing life in the form of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and trees that serve to regenerate.”

Thursday morning was the third year in a row that the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office Crime Victims’ Unit and the Brownsville Wellness Coalition have gathered at the Tres Angeles Park to add a new round of plants in honor of the children.

The park, which also houses a seating area and a small community library, is complete with individual beds that can be reserved by residents to grow their own food. The Brownsville Wellness Coalition provides water, seeds, and transplants to interested gardeners.

“As long as you maintain it, it’s really a fruit of your labor. If you take care of it and you give it water and you make sure you weed it out, you’re going to get a really good harvest,” said Jessica Monique, coordinator of the coalition’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre program.

“It’s not what it was when the murders happened. This is a healing space because there’s life,” she said of the garden. “People come here, they walk, they sit down and read. They are growing food that isn’t infested with chemicals, that they’re growing something they can pick that day, that they can eat that day, something that is fresh and wholesome.”

Monique’s colleague David Vasquez grew up in the neighborhood and remembers when the murders happened. He says his journey into urban gardening helped turn his life around.

“This is more than work for me,” he says, citing his roots in the community. “I got to see first-hand the horror of what happened here.”

Vazquez is in charge of maintaining six different gardens for the coalition, as well as his own farm. He cites the coalition’s work as a tool to keep the community healthy and educated.

“If you teach someone how to garden they’ll never starve because they’ll be able to grow their own food,” he said.

“The energy here is awesome. It’s beautiful to see the community helping because they want to make a difference. With everything going on in the news and with our president and all of this, it really helps to enjoy nature. We’re out here planting trees that give us fruit and we’re enjoying the fruits of our labor. We’re putting in the work.”