‘These kids are our kids too’<br>
Don Keil, Gil Gabaldon and Ron Clayton officiated.
“The reason we’re here is for the great love we had for these two young people,” said Gabaldon.
In describing the diverse but close-knit Grand Canyon community, Clayton added, “These kids are our kids too.”
Paco was born on Aug. 12, 1982, in Flagstaff, the son of longtime Grand Canyon residents Kenneth and Nancy (Laughlin) Hunter. He was a 2000 graduate of Grand Canyon High School, and had attended school here since kindergarten.
Jessica Ruth Cochran was born Nov. 2, 1982, in Grand Junction, Colo., the daughter of Vernon Cochran of Grand Canyon, and Suzan (Bowser) Cochran of Prescott Valley. She came to Grand Canyon with her family in the late 90s and was a 2000 graduate of Esperanza Academy at Grand Canyon.
At the time of their deaths, they were residents of Prescott Valley. Paco worked in Prescott at Macayo’s Mexican restaurant, while Jessica was a manager at Souper! Salad! Restaurant.
They were killed in a head-on collision around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10 on Highway 69 in Diamond Valley, about a mile east of Prescott when an oncoming car veered into their lane. The driver of that vehicle was also killed.
While the sudden and tragic nature of their deaths stunned the community, last Saturday’s ceremony focused on finding hope, strength and solace in faith.
“Please don’t shut out help from above,” said Gabaldon. “God understands our hurt and anger. If God could have prevented this, why didn’t he? But God’s perfect love has not abandoned us. He has a plan to make the world a perfect place.”
“Just because they’re not standing here with us doesn’t mean they’re not here with us in our hearts,” Clayton said.
In the course of the two-hour ceremony, a steady parade of people came forward to share memories illustrating the pair’s tremendous love of life, their devotion to family and each other and the void left by their passing.
“You couldn’t see Paco that he wasn’t smiling,” Clayton recalled. “Jessica was a beautiful, sweet young woman. She was always there for my daughter and she brought balance to Paco’s life.”
He described an early memory of Paco learning to ride a bicycle and how he was so eager to be on the go, he skipped the wobbly phase and soon was racing all over the neighborhood.
“That was his approach to everything in life,” Clayton said. “There isn’t a young man who could cram as much life into as many years as Paco did.”
Chas Iacampo, now a senior at Grand Canyon High School, recalled that whether it was spending the day sledding, proving he could draw the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or dreaming up new pranks to play on his friends, Paco brought an intensity and joy to everything he did and to everyone around him.
“How he needs to be remembered is making everyone laugh,” Iacampo said.
“They were special people who will be remembered as a couple who spread joy everywhere they went,” said Terry Tobin, who was Paco’s teacher for four years and remembers well his propensity for mischief. Calling Jessica “his smart half,” she said falling in love brought balance to Paco’s life.
“They were two great people,” said Jessica’s cousin Johnna Bowser. “Over the last couple of years, you couldn’t say ‘Paco’ without saying ‘Paco and Jessica.’”
Mixed with their joy and love of life was a genuine sense of respect and responsibility.
“They always respected my house,” said Clayton. “It was always ‘Mr. Clayton,’ never ‘Ron.’”
And while Gabaldon recalled being “on the receiving end of Paco’s sense of mischief,” he also remembers a devoted young man who made sure his two younger brothers faithfully attended Sunday school.
“It was an honor to share in their lives. Jessica could make me feel so respected,” said her uncle, Jon Bowser. “She would call me and ask for advice, and she would really take it to heart.”
Following the ceremony, Jessica and Paco were laid to rest side-by-side in Grand Canyon Cemetery. Said Jon Bowser, “These kids are together forever in a place that they loved.”
Paco is survived by his parents Nancy and Ken Hunter and his brothers, Miles and Jesse, all of Grand Canyon; his grandparents, Lynn MacVittie and Daniel and Rosemary Laughlin; uncles Thomas Hunter and Michael and Greg Laughlin; aunts Dani Mariconda, Diana Harmon and Cindi Cunio; great-aunt, Sue O’ Neill; and numerous cousins.
His grandparents, Raymond and Cecilia Hunter, preceded Paco in death.
Jessica is survived by her parents, Vernon Cochran of Grand Canyon, and Suzan Cochran of Prescott Valley; a brother, Starbuck James Simon (Yolanda); sisters Amy Simon of Spicewood, Texas, and Sara Cochran of Prescott Valley; nieces Alexendra and Mariah of Prescott Valley; a nephew, Waylon of Spicewood, Texas; grandparents John and Renee Bowser of Prescott Valley and George and Juanita Hunsicker of Kentucky; and uncles, aunts and cousins, Danny Cochran, Samuel, Donna, Chad, Jeramy, Samantha, Johnna, Jaydin Stephan, Kim Lance, Jon, Jesse, Becky, Kayla, Christopher and Amber Bowser; and aunt Yvonne Yandell. Her uncle, Art Cochran, preceded Jessica in death.
Expressions of sympathy for the Hunter and/or Cochran families can be made at the Grand Canyon School District Office.
(Editor’s note: Some information for this article was reported by Mirsada Buric-Adam of the Prescott Daily Courier, a sister publication of the Williams-Grand Canyon News. Both are published by Western Newspapers, Inc.)