Hundreds honor fallen Grand Prairie police officer at candlelight vigil
Grand Prairie Officer A.J. Castaneda was pronounced dead in an Arlington hospital room, and his fiancee was in Peru unaware.
Missy Steppe, a friend of the couple and the wife of a Grand Prairie officer, sat outside Castaneda’s room Friday morning with police officials, knowing she would have to make the difficult call. Not everyone knew Castaneda’s fiancee — Noemi Aroste, of Cusco, Peru, whom he had been dating for about a year — because only spouses’ names are added to permanent police files, Steppe said. So she picked up the phone.
Aroste at first didn’t believe what she was hearing, thinking it was a joke, but Steppe explained it was not, she said. After they cried together, they turned their focus to one issue: Getting Aroste to Texas by Thursday for the funeral.
Aroste, with Steppe’s help, got together a horde of documents — her passport, a version of the death certificate, messages and photos that proved their relationship — to bring to an emergency meeting Tuesday at the U.S. Embassy in Peru. But she was denied a non-immigrant travel visa, Steppe said.
Their only remaining hope on Wednesday lay in the office of Sen. Ted Cruz, which in the morning had requested the same information from her to make a second plea to the Embassy.
Steppe heard back at around 4 p.m. Wednesday. The request was denied.
“It’s unfortunate ... She needs this closure,” Steppe said. “They were super in love and ready to make the next step, so the fact that she is not going to be able to say goodbye — I can’t even fathom. That’s the worst thing in the entire world, not getting that closure.”
Aroste, reached over Facebook, declined to comment Wednesday.
She will be one piece of Castaneda’s life missing from Thursday’s ceremony at the Potter’s House church in Dallas set to honor a man remembered as a dedicated public servant.
Castaneda, 38, died shortly before 11 a.m. Friday after a car hit him on the President George Bush Turnpike as he stood outside his patrol vehicle to run radar. Hundreds of people gathered at the Grand Prairie Police Department on Sunday night to honor him with a candlelight vigil, and thousands more are expected to turn up Thursday.
Castaneda, who has a nonverbal autistic son, met Aroste in Peru as part of his travels around the world seeking alternative treatments for his son, Steppe said. They shared a love of traveling, she said, and had recently taken a trip to Mexico. They were set to get married in Peru in July.
After Aroste committed herself to getting to Texas, she and Steppe immediately worked on gathering the documents required for a non-immigrant travel visa. On top of the documents she had to provide like a passport and a valid temporary death certificate — the real certificates can take weeks — she had to prove their relationship, Steppe said.
They provided photos of the two together, private text messages and even had her parents draft a letter saying they were a committed couple, she said. But, on Tuesday morning, Steppe got a call from Aroste that it had been denied.
The reason for the denial, she said, was that Aroste doesn’t own property in Peru, only rents. Aroste was seen, she said, as a possible flight risk.
“We were all just floored,” Steppe said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
A plan had already been in the works to welcome her to Texas, Steppe said. Someone had offered to pay for her airline tickets, whenever she got them, and Steppe had volunteered to pick her up at the airport. She and her husband were then going to open up their home to her.
There was an 11:30 p.m. flight Wednesday leaving from Cusco that was their last hope, until Cruz’s office said they were denied, Steppe said.
Aroste has heard from people offering to fly her to Mexico and get her into Texas, she said.
“I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Steppe said. “We won’t violate any laws.”
Steppe, whose former husband was a Marine killed in active duty about 20 years ago, said she understands what it’s like to lose someone suddenly. But she got closure in her situation, she said, and “can’t even imagine being told that you can’t say goodbye.”
She plans to bring Aroste to Texas, in time.
Then Aroste will get to have closure.
“I’ll make sure we have a private service at the cemetery,” Steppe said, “so she can say her goodbyes.”