Memorial bridge planned to honor teens killed 20 years ago

January 24, 2013 5:26:10 PM PST
It was a story that shocked the Houston area -- two teenage girls raped and murdered at the hands of gang members. Now, more than 20 years after their deaths, a proposal for a memorial that would not only honor the victims, but also bring a community together.

The area near the Northwest Park, where the two girls were murdered, remains undeveloped wooded acreage. Now a man very moved by the tragedy wants to make it a useful, safe area.

It's a project that's been 20 years in the making, a signature bridge to commemorate the lives of teenagers Elizabeth Pena and Jennifer Ertman. In 1993, both Waltrip High School students were raped and murdered by gang members near the railroad tracks of TC Jester Park. Civil engineer Chris Barnhart lived in the area then and never moved away.

He said, "I was disturbed by it. In fact, our son even later graduated from Waltrip High School and I wanted to do something about it."

The area where the crime took place is still wilderness. Barnhart believes hike and bike trails could make use of the area, with his bridge providing the access.

"I thought we could build a signature bikeway bridge in this location to access the land over there, where the crime was committed," Barnhart explained. "I think if people where moving through the area, as people do on bikeways, I think the area would become safe."

Barnhart's design is an arch cable stay bridge, similar to one he designed in Hermann Park. His latest model, though, demonstrates the significance of what happened two decades ago.

"It's fluted, being wider at the entrance and exit, than it is at the center, which would tend to attract people into the bridge," he explained.

While three of the gang members have since been executed, and others try for parole, this idea of this Northwest Park, the designer hopes can pave a new way into a place many see as a dark wilderness.

Barnhart said, "Bridges connect people and they connect locations and those families are forever connected."

Barnhart says he has contacted some city departments who show interest in the project, which could be partially funded through federal grant programs.

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