Leila and Zeinab Ezzeddine were beautiful, cheerful and girly, said their uncle, Jose Santisteban.
“These angels came to this world to put a smile on my sister, to put a smile on me,” he said.
Santisteban and hundreds of other family members and friends filled the Crawford-Bowers Funeral Home Chapel in Killeen on Monday to remember Leila, 9, and Zeinab, 4, whose lives were cut short Jan. 21 in an apparent murder-suicide, according to Army investigators.
Pink flowers covered a single casket surrounded by pink, purple and teal balloons. A series of photos played on TV screens, showing two happy children swimming and playing with horses, always smiling.
Many attendees wore Army uniforms. The girls’ mother, Pfc. Carla Santisteban, is a soldier with 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
On Jan. 21, Carla Santisteban arrived at Fort Hood from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan to learn her daughters appeared to have died at the hands of their father earlier that morning. All three were Army dependents.
“We have problems, frustrations, things so heavy for us, but when I was with my nieces, everything in the world was gone,” their uncle said in his eulogy. “Just them and me and my family and my sister and all the problems in the world were gone.”
Jose Santisteban remembered Leila as wise for her age, and Zeinab as funny.
He recalled a day the family wanted to go play at the track. All of them waited for “ZZ” to get ready.
“She came out wearing a purse, makeup, high heels and long nails,” he said with a hint of laughter in his voice. When questioned about her accessories, ZZ told her family she “needed that.”
Many friends from Leila’s elementary school also attended the funeral service. Some carried stuffed animals or colorful flower arrangements.
Ten-year-old Leila San Salvador made friends with the eldest daughter, because the two share the same first name. The two would walk home from school together, something Leila San Salvador said she will always remember.
“(I miss) her,” she said.
Steve Pena, Carla Santisteban’s brother-in-law, took time during the service to thank the Army and her unit for the support they have shown — not just soldier to soldier, but as her friend.
The family has been overwhelmed by the devotion and dedication shown amid this tragedy, he said.
“They’re not just good fighting men and women, they are good human beings,” he said. “When it’s time to fight ... they fight. When it’s time to hug ... they do that as well.”
Maj. Paul Weberg, a Catholic chaplain from the 89th Military Police Brigade, presided over the service.
He compared Carla Santisteban’s pain to that of Mary’s after Jesus died. But he reminded mourners that after Good Friday, came Easter Sunday.
“God gives the gift of life, he never takes the gift back. Life is ours for all of eternity. In death, life is only changed,” he said. “May their souls ... rest in peace. Amen.”
Rose L. Thayer is the military editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. She joined the paper in February 2011 as a health and military reporter. View her complete profile Here. You can contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.