Each year in Alexandria Arceneaux’s home in Lawndale, California, a different person is chosen to decorate the Christmas tree with the colors of their choice. This year is her turn, so the tree will be red, white and a shade of tan to compliment the green of the tree, her favorite color. But this December, Arceneaux won’t be home to hang the ornaments on the branches.
Alexandria — Aly at school, but Alex at home — is remembered by friends and family for her love of art, photography and fashion and her friendly spirit.
“I feel like she is watching me from up there,” said Arceneaux’s mother Gina Williams. “I told her sisters we have to make sure we do right down here because she is watching us up there. I have my days. Sometimes I am crying, sometimes I am not — but I have nothing to be sad about because she had a beautiful life. She had a beautiful life.”
Arceneaux tragically died on Nov. 5. A vehicle struck the 20-year-old UC Santa Cruz student in a hit and run, on her way home from a Halloween party with her friends on Oct. 30. Police have since arrested the driver, a 26-year-old Rancho Cucamonga local, after he turned himself in.
Williams said she talked to her daughter just hours before the party, a casual mother-daughter check in. She said the two were very close and would often talk on the phone while Arceneaux was away at school. But a few hours later, Williams got a call Arceneaux had been hit by a car.
“To get a call like that a couple of hours later is very traumatic,” Williams said.
After the hit and run, Arceneaux was transported to a Bay Area hospital and placed in intensive care. Williams rushed from Southern California and Arceneaux’s father flew in from Hawaii. The family was able to say their last goodbyes, including hosting a candlelight vigil while Aly was still alive.
Williams said she was overwhelmed with the amount of support from UCSC students and who showed up to the hospital in honor of her daughter.
“She touched so many lives, that I didn’t know,” Williams said. “There were kids at school who were shy who opened up to her, kids that talked to her that she made feel better. She did that. She did things like that. She was very, very, very loved. That I do know.”
Arceneaux was a person people were drawn to, Williams said. Even on her first day of college she made a place for herself at UCSC within Rachel Carson College.
“When I first took her to college everybody thought she would be homesick, but she wasn’t,” Williams said. “When I called her back when I got home she was like ‘Momma I am with my friends.’ She was with friends already — she was that type of person.”
She said knowing her daughter had already made connections at UCSC made her feel comforted, and like everything would be okay. But she said she never could have imagined anything like this, and the suddenness of her daughter’s death is leaving her with many questions, especially for the driver.
“I don’t know him, I don’t know him personally, but I wish he had of stopped,” Williams said. “If he had just stopped, regardless of [what] the outcome would have been — why he didn’t stop?”
Arceneaux was a dean’s list student who was passionate about theater and education. At Rachel Carson College, she worked as a writing tutor course assistant, where her advisor Joy Hagen said she was gifted as a teacher.
“She had that strength of leadership, but she was kind of quietly approachable,” Hagen said. “She always let somebody else make the first move, and she wouldn’t monitor herself for being shy because she wanted to lead, to let people approach her to help them with this.”
Arceneaux will be missed by the many people’s lives she touched at Rachel Carson College, Lawndale, and everywhere else she went. And as the holidays approach, Arceneaux’s memory hangs heavy. Her favorite holiday was Thanksgiving because she loved shopping with her mother and sisters that night.
Her mother Gina Williams said even though Arceneaux won’t be there in person for the holiday traditions like watching holiday movies or admiring holiday lights on Christmas Eve, the family will still continue them as planned.
“We are going to make sure we carry her through the journey,” Williams said. “And make sure we keep her spirit, her soul, everything alive. So we are not going to change anything because she wouldn’t want us to.”
A Celebration of Life for Alexandria Alisha Arceneaux will be held Nov. 18 at 11 a.m. at the Victory Baptist Church, 4802 McKinley Avenue in Los Angeles, California.