AUSTIN, TEXAS - The people who make Austin a great music town—indeed, a close-knit community of creative people unlike any other—are mourning the loss of one of their most cherished faces.
News that Austin’s first homicide victim of 2012 was Esmeralda “Esme” Barrera, a 29-year-old El Paso native, star of the local music scene, teacher of special needs children, and role model to countless young musicians, has sparked an outpouring of grief and shared memories both online and around the city.
Esme Barrera was at a 29th Street Ballroom New Year’s Eve event Saturday night, ringing in 2012 with friends. After she walked home alone, she was found injured in her home by a friend. By the time police arrived around 3 a.m., she had succumbed to her injuries.
The “Ballroom” is actually an adjunct of the Spider House coffee house, about a four-block walk from Barrera’s rented home, where flowers covered the driveway Tuesday.
Barrera was a teaching assistant for special education classes at Casis Elementary School for more than five years. She also was a mentor to girls learning about music in Girls Rock Austin programs. Austin’s music scene was reeling from the news as online tributes and reactions poured forth yesterday and today.
Last night her friends gathered for a “Celebration for Esme” at the Liberty bar in East Austin. Online, the blog “For.Our.Esme.B” has been established to help her family with funeral expenses. The ceremony will be in El Paso, where her parents and siblings live.
Online accounts of Barrera’s selflessness, enthusiasm and kindness are appearing practically every minute. Last night, Gerard Cosloy joined a chorus of independent music impresarios, fans and creators remembering her spirit when he wrote the following:
“Even if you only knew her thru the kind of moments that never show up on someone’s resume—the late-night recaps of what happened the previous night, the number of times she’d leave a mind-blowing show and try to pretend it wasn’t that great (never quite pulling it off, either), how much she tried to do for the people in her life, new and old—you weren’t merely lucky, you won the lottery. Even in a locale with a low percentage of jerks/poseurs, Esme was unfailingly genuine… and (I mean this in the best possible way) never afraid to risk looking dopey, but more importantly, never reluctant to let someone know she gave a hoot.
If you’re reading this, didn’t know this woman and you’re saying to yourself, ‘Big deal, I know someone just like that,’ tell them. Today. We can’t bring Esme back, but any moment going forward not spent trying to match the very high bar she set… is time wasted.”
Barrera’s friend Summer Anne Burton wrote the following on her blog:
“Esme lived a life so big and fun that it feels like any of us just have a little slice of the story. I imagine that 500 people or more could come together and each one of us would have our own Esme story.”
Friend Alyx Vesey, who worked with Barrera at Girls Rock Camp, wrote yesterday:
“(She) became a model for how I present myself in front of students and run a classroom. She was hilarious—always quick with a joke, a story about her mom, or a day-after reel about a night out on the town. She was also tiny, but always seemed larger in part because she could frequently be seen at shows or parties holding a tall boy or a long neck seemingly a third her size.”
Melissa Bryan with Girls Rock Camp wrote:
“’I look ridiculous’” was the last text I received from Esme, on her way out the door to the big NYE bash. She didn’t look ridiculous, of course, I spotted her across the packed room, (wearing) a cute dress, standing against the stage by Max, singing along to ‘Surrender’ at the top of her lungs. ‘Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright they just seem a little weird/surrender, surrender/but don’t give yourself away.’
This is what I loved the most about Esme–her ability to capitulate completely to the moment. To put on a strappy dress and think she looks ridiculous and go out anyway. To stand in the front of the front and belt it. To listen to a song and embrace its power. To own the dance floor. Esme loved so hard. She had challenges and she faced them full on.”
An official statement from Girls Rock Austin read, in part:
“She had such a rad and wonderful positive energy with the kids, and that energy extended to everyone in our community–at school, at the record store, through her mixtapes, through her dances, at many a rock show, through her unique wit and wisdom. She was small in stature, but her presence was large and positively exploding with infinite possibilities. She helped empower a lot of girls, and indeed helped empower us all.”
Barrera’s friend Rich Elrath is organizing a Jan. 13 show at The Annex at 1808, a venue on the east side. The show will feature two stages of music starting at 5 p.m. Admission is on a sliding scale, $5-10. Proceeds will go to funeral costs.
Elrath Tuesday called Barrera an “integral part of the Austin music scene.”
“She will be sorely missed and we hope this event will help celebrate her life, even as we mourn a life cut short way too soon,” he said.
Bands slated to appear include Quin Galavis, The Flesh Lights, Literature, Wino Vino, Mugwump, Les RAV, Rambler Rose, Laute Leute, The Atomic Duo, Gospel and the Wolf, Quasi Trois, Cruddy and Crooked Bangs.
Police have appealed to the public in their search for a man accused of assaulting another woman on the same night and on the same street Barrera was found. That assault occurred at around 2:18 a.m. and the victim provided the physical description of the suspect.
He may have been involved in another assault around 5 a.m. in the 300 block of E. 31st Street (about a mile east of the other two assaults, near the Speedway intersection).
If you have information about the identity of the suspect in the composite, call the Homicide Tip Line at 477-3588 or Crimestoppers at 472-TIPS.