After learning that two teenage girls in Whitewater had lost both their parents in one morning, community members in Whitewater collectively donated several thousand dollars to assist with funeral arrangements and emergency expenses for the teens.
Pay It Forward, a local group that meets once each month to decide a cause to anonymously donate money toward, led the effort to support the teens in their time of need.
“It’s really powerful that our community comes together in those times of need,” said Kim Simes, a member of the Pay It Forward group. “Recognizing where we’re at and being in a position to help is a great feeling.”
The group helped raise more than $3,000 in a matter of days, and the Whitewater Unified School District (WUSD) has set up an emergency fund to help support the girls’ lives so they can remain in the area and continue to attend school locally, Director of Pupils Services Lanora Heim said. Further donations by cash or check can be dropped off at the school district’s central office, 419 S. Elizabeth St.
The girls, ages 16 and 14, have expressed that their greatest desire is to raise the money for funeral arrangements and to send their parents’ remains to Mexico, Heim said. The girls put their parents’ obituaries together on their own.
“We’ve been respecting their wishes all along the way,” Heim said.
Heim said the bodies of Maribel Yessenia Ruiz Flores and Silvestre Ramirez Linares will be laid to rest by other relatives in Morelos, Mexico, the city where they were born and raised before immigrating to the United States with their children.
Ruiz Flores and Ramirez Linares, both 36 of Whitewater, died Jan. 31 in what Fort Atkinson Police Department Captain Jeff Davis described as an incident that is under investigation as a murder-suicide case.
“What happened is a horrible tragedy,” Simes said. “The reality is that it happens all the time.”
Social workers for WUSD have been meeting regularly with the two teens, Heim said. Because both girls are under the age of 18 they aren’t allowed to live independently, since the presence of a legal guardian is required by state law. Their nearest relatives are in Chicago, with other relatives living in California and Mexico.
Several family members outside the community have offered to take them in, although WUSD and Walworth County officials are trying to help the teens stay in Whitewater, Heim said.
Foster care is one option for the teens, Heim said, adding that Walworth County Health and Human Services is overseeing the foster care process.
But the need for foster parents is dire, and there are 47 other children living under foster care in the WUSD.
“It’s a huge need, and not just for these two young women in a time of tragedy,” Heim said. “There’s a desperate need.”
The girls attended class the day after the incident, and they haven’t missed a single day since, Heim said, adding that the teens took just a few half days to plan funeral arrangements.
“They’re extremely high-achieving students,” Heim said. “Brilliant young minds. They have a strong network of teachers and friends.”
Heim said the teens belong to the National Honor Society, which made a “large donation” and have been “tremendously supportive.”
National Honor Society made a large donation in the girls’ names. Their involved organizations have “been tremendously supportive.”
Aside from monetary donations, cards and kindness are appreciated, Heim said. “They [the teens] are surprised that even people who don’t know them care about them.”
The incident under investigation
The morning of Jan. 31, Ramirez Linares pursued Ruiz Flores’ vehicle to Fort Atkinson as she was driving a male coworker home after work, Davis said.
The couple was not married, but they had been partners for around 18 years.
Upon reaching an apartment building located at 114 S. Third St. West in Fort Atkinson, Davis said Ramirez Linares approached the other vehicle and fatally shot Ruiz Flores.
Linares entered the vehicle through the front passenger-side door, and “he essentially crawled over the passenger and shot [Flores],” Davis said.
The car had been in the drive setting when Flores was hit, and after the gunshot, the car accelerated into the garage of the apartment building. Linares was dragged by the moving vehicle as it smashed through the door and slammed into the back wall of the garage.
The male passenger in Flores’ car was the only direct witness interviewed at the scene; however, several residents told police they heard the crash.
Davis said police pursued Linares as a primary suspect throughout the afternoon of Jan. 31 before finding his body inside a parked vehicle in the town of Cold Spring.
“The community is not in any danger,” Davis said, adding that because the primary suspect in the incident is deceased, a criminal complaint will not be filed by the Fort Atkinson Police Department.
Davis said police are investigating the details surrounding the location of Linares’ death. Fort Atkinson Police worked with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and Whitewater City Police Department at the time of the incident.
The male passenger in Flores’ car does not face any criminal charges, Davis said. “The overall investigation is ongoing now that evidence has been sent to crime lab. We just want to be thorough.”
Valedictorian and active parent
Maribel Yessenia Ruiz Flores worked for Whitewater Greenhouse LLC, located along County Road U just outside of Whitewater.
According to her obituary, which ran on the Whitewater Banner website on Feb. 4, Ruiz Flores graduated as valedictorian and medical secretary of her high school class in 1998.
The obituary said Ruiz Flores was an active parent in the school district who enjoyed reading and spending time with her family. She attended school events often and cultivated a garden at home, the obituary said.
She always sought to ensure others were smiling the obituary said.
Outdoorsman and car enthusiast
Silvestre Ramirez Linares sought to live the American Dream upon immigrating to the United States with his partner and their two children, according to his Feb. 4 obituary on the Whitewater Banner’s website.
The obituary said he was passionate about providing for his family and keeping others happy. He was a working man who enjoyed snowmobiling, soccer and classic cars, the obituary said.