EL PASO, Texas (KXAN) — An Austin teacher has died after being swept away by flood waters while hiking in El Paso, according to emergency officials in the area.
The El Paso Fire Department responded to a report of a missing hiker on Monday in the Franklin Mountains, near the Jan Sumrall Memorial Trailhead. On Tuesday afternoon, officials confirmed they found the body of 39-year-old Christina Garcia-Mata.
The Austin Independent School District said Garcia-Mata taught at Akins Early College High School.
In a statement, AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said, “We are shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a member of our Austin ISD family. Christina Garcia-Mata was a dedicated and passionate educator who worked endlessly for her students for 15 years. Her colleagues knew her as a bright, warm presence who could lift their spirits with a smile and a story. We send our heartfelt condolences to her family and every life that she touched.”
According to a post on the Akins ECHS website, Garcia-Mata won the Teacher of the Year award in 2017-18.
“She was just what every teacher should look up to be,” said former student Miguel Garcia Zuniga.
He was in Garcia-Mata’s class for nearly three years, but is now attending college at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. He credits his favorite teacher with helping him through the process.
“Thanks to her motivating all of us. You know, I was hoping to send her a letter when I graduated,” he said. “She saw us more as her kids than anything.”
According to Akins ECHS’s website, she taught a class called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), focused on preparing students emotionally and socially for success in college.
Zuniga remembered her saying “Hi, mijo!” anytime he walked in the door. He talked about days the class would circle up and talk about things they were going through and how to handle it.
“She was a shoulder to cry on for all of us,” he said.
A former Akins teacher, Greg Izor, said Garcia-Mata changed the way Akins was structured by prioritizing kids’ emotional development.
“A big part of her legacy is that she was such an advocate for students’ emotional health and giving them the tools they needed to support their emotional health,” he said. “She could always relate to students very openly and honestly… without kind of confusing the line between who was the teacher and who was the student.”
He called it a “gift” and said the other teachers appreciated her efforts.
“We could see the impact she was having with our kids on a daily basis,” Izor said.
Zuniga also noted how heartbroken he was for Garcia-Mata’s husband and the child she leaves behind.
The district said they would have guidance counselors available to students or staff who may need help processing her loss.
- To speak to a counselor, please contact the Akins ECHS campus at (512) 841-9901.
According to Akins ECHS’s website, Garcia-Mata was originally from El Paso and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso.
A spokesperson for the El Paso Fire Department said the area of the Franklin Mountains where this accident occurred isn’t usually considered dangerous. However, after particularly heavy rain the past few days, he said they were seeing more flooded roads and trails. In fact, they’re now asking people in El Paso to avoid trails and other outdoor activities until the end of the week, when conditions subside.
A notification from El Paso authorities indicated Garcia-Mata’s death was ruled accidental.
- For more information on this developing story out of El Paso, click here.