TURLOCK - Olga Correa said goodbye to her best friend Tuesday night, when she and about 400 others lined the walls of Allen Mortuary to attend the rosary of Karina Lau, the 20-year-old Livingston woman killed last week when her helicopter was shot from the sky above Iraq.For Correa, the night might have been like those she had with Lau when both were children, when each would make sure the other was safe and behind locked doors after their playdates.
"We'd each watch to make sure the other was in the house before we'd go," Correa, 24, said. "We grew up together."
Lau was a private first class in the United States Army - and one of the 16 American soldiers killed in a Nov. 2 attack that disabled the helicopter carrying her away from the war zone and toward vacation back home in Livingston.
As they passed each other, Lau's friends and family - some from all over and many from Livingston - stopped to speak quietly, their foreheads touching as whispers were exchanged.
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The vigil began at 7:10 p.m., 10 minutes late because the line of people that trailed up the center of the mortuary to see Lau one last time just kept growing. They bowed their heads as they stopped before a large cross hanging above Lau's casket and below a bowed ceiling pointing upward toward the night sky.
"She was loved by everybody," Correa said, just outside the double doors of the mortuary. "She touched everybody's heart."
Those who knew Lau best crammed the pews of the mortuary, where the sound of one woman sobbing could be heard above the sounds of voices singing hymns in Spanish.
Correa said she felt grief and disbelief when she visited her friend's coffin draped with an American flag.
"It's not her," she said. "I can't believe it. I won't. I see her pictures and it's not her."
Lau's casket was framed by several floral arrangements, including one in red, white and blue.
"She wanted to surprise her family," said the priest, the Rev. Mark Wagner. "We pray that God will help us understand the mysteries of His will."
Wagner conducted almost all of the roughly 90-minute vigil and rosary in Spanish.
Several members of Livingston High School's class of 1993 attended the services to pay respects to former classmate Luis Lau, Karina's older brother and a member of the United States Navy.
"We wanted to support Luis and his family," said Ana Perez-Guillen of Livingston. "God bless them and the troops that are still out there."
Irene Garcia of Livingston, a former classmate of Luis Lau's, also commented on his sister.
"I hope that she was thinking of happy things," she said.
Lisa Alvarez-Mays, also of Livingston, said she wanted to show her support for the Lau family even though she did not know Karina. "I really wanted to be here for Luis," she said.
The Laus declined comment Tuesday night, but Luis Lau did say that a memorial scholarship fund in his sister's name will be part of her legacy.
"This scholarship is for people to follow their dreams," Lau said, holding a sobbing family member.
Karina Lau, a respected musician and singer, still has the ability to draw strangers to her side.
"She died the way anybody would want to die," said Rebecca Sanchez of Ceres, who did not know Lau but wanted to pay her respects.
"She died a hero."
Miguel Correa, Olga Correa's father, said he never expected a war so many miles away to hit so close to home.
"I don't understand why people are still dying or how this happened to us," he said.
For those who wish to donate to the Karina Lau Memorial Scholarship Fund can send donations to Livingston High School, 1617 Main St., Livingston, CA 95334. The scholarship will provide financial aid to students of music.
Services will be held today at 10 a.m. at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church in Livingston. Disposition will follow at Turlock District Cemetery.