On November 16, 2010, two Marines and a Navy Chaplain rang Veronica Ortiz Rivera’s doorbell in Camp Lejeune, N.C. It was raining that day, and she had just mailed packages full of snacks, “I Love You” notes from the kids and photographs to her husband, Javier. She was smiling until she saw who was behind the door’s frosted glass.
After she heard that her husband had died, Veronica remembers screaming for the Marines and chaplain to leave, but they wouldn’t. They were waiting for one of her friends to arrive to help her with her children. She remembers that her friend picked up the children from school for an impromptu sleepover and then sent them off again to school the next morning. But mostly, Veronica has difficultly piecing together what happened that day.
Their two oldest kids, Alyssa and Andrew, were eight and five at the time, and they wondered if the sudden sleepover and the air of secrecy meant their father was coming home early to surprise them.
Alyssa’s teacher took her to the counselor’s office where Veronica was waiting. “My mom looked at me and told me Papi wasn’t coming home,” Alyssa said. “I didn’t know what she meant. She just looked at me and said, ‘He died.’”
Things were the same for Anthony, who was three. He walked into preschool that morning expecting good news. Instead, he was told he’d never see his father again. This is their story.