SEBRING — Weather in the 40s with a wind couldn’t chill the spirits of people who remembered the Sebring Five on Sunday.
More than two dozen muscle and classic cars, seats full of family and friends, turned out Sunday morning at Reflection Park for Jessica’s Memorial Cruise, a memorial anniversary ride for all of those lost in the Jan. 23, 2019 mass shooting at SunTrust in Sebring.
For now the third year, the cruise was led by Montague’s husband, Jermaine “Maine” Montague, driving his late wife’s 2008 “Grabber Blue” Ford Mustang GT, rebuilt since her death with the help of family friend and unofficial family member Daffne Cruz, who shared her love of Mustangs and whose daughters are almost the exact same age.
“Maine” said he hopes to redo the car with a fresh version of its current interior, to complete the restoration. Other than restoration work, the annual cruise and occasional outings, he said his wife’s “baby” stays in the garage.
“I’ve got to carry five kids around,” Maine said of his daily routine.
He has not been alone in his challenges, grief or remembrance. This year’s cruise of muscle cars and classics, including a 1960s model VW Beetle, included trucks and even a Polaris Slingshot, driven by David Welch of Avon Park.
“I will do this every year,” said Welch, who at 70 feels a kinship with the young drivers and with those missing the women lost three years ago.
Those preparing for the cruise visited among their parked cars, men talking quietly and mothers and daughters hugging each other before revving up engines to leave.
As if held back specifically for them, traffic on southbound U.S. 27 disappeared while the cruise rolled out from Reflection Park, until all drivers had left.
Five women died at the hands of a single gunman at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2019 as they worked and banked at SunTrust Bank Midtown Branch in Sebring. The park there now has a plaza where the building once stood and a five-sided table at the center, decorated with the women’s photographs inscribed with the words: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
Fresh flowers sat on the table this year, along with wreaths by one of the five border/sitting walls. Petals whipped up by the frigid breeze coming across Lake Jackson on the 48-degree day danced around the paving stones.
A former coworker who only came to visit and pray, and who wished to stay anonymous, arrived from church just after the cars left for their tour of Sebring.
The visitor did not expect that anyone would ever understand why the shooting happened.
“The best we can do is remember those we lost and be there for the ones left behind,” the person said, before going over to the stone table to remember lost friends.
The five women memorialized are Jessica Montague, mother of three and step-mom of seven; newlywed Cynthia Watson; Marisol Lopez, mother of two; grandmother Debra Cook and Ana Piñon-Williams, mother of seven.
The Cruise ended at Love Bugg’s on U.S. 27 at Northwood Boulevard, after a tour of downtown Sebring. Most drivers and passengers had on black, as in a funeral procession, with plans to meet for a late lunch at Chili’s.
Welch, when he arrived in his three-wheel, open-air roadster — a clear Plexiglass roof on it for safety — cued up “Stairway to Heaven” from his playlists.
“It just seems like an appropriate song,” Welch said.