Christmas angel memorialized with bonfire tribute

Published 6:26 am Wednesday, December 21, 2022

PAULINA — Aliye Ringe became her family’s Christmas angel when she passed away on December 25, 2021 after a devastating automobile accident, saving five lives through organ donation in her final moments.

A beautiful angel bonfire built in her memory now stands on the Mississippi River levee as the family braces for their first Christmas without her.

Located on Highway 44 in Paulina, the angel bonfire was created by Aliye’s uncle, Darren St. Pierre, along with Kerrie Lear, Danny Keller, Zack Keller, and Addison and Avery St. Pierre. It was St. Pierre’s hope that the bonfire could bring a sense of hope and comfort to grieving loved ones.

“I thought it would be a good idea because the family has been through hell and back. I knew I needed to do something about it. I figured this would lift everybody up and help them out through their hard times,” he said.

St. Pierre has been building bonfires to light on Christmas Eve since he was a child, but this is only the third or fourth time that he’s created a non-traditional structure. Past exceptions have included a bonfire dedicated to cancer awareness and one that was shaped like a helicopter after Hurricane Katrina. As usual, bonfire construction picked up after Thanksgiving and continued over the course of a few weekends.

The completed angel includes praying hands, wings, and a halo lit up with golden lights.

“Everyone’s been saying ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘that’s beautiful’. Most people don’t know the reason behind it, and when they ask why I built an angel, I tell them we lost our niece last year for Christmas, and this is a representation of her,” St. Pierre said. “We were with her every holiday. She walked in me and my wife’s wedding. That kid was a trip. She was full of life; I can tell you that. She’s an angel now, looking down on us.”

Aliye’s grandmother, Leah Veck, said everyone who knew her remembers her fun-loving spirit. She loved the Christmas bonfires that line the levee in the River Parishes, and it’s a fitting tribute that one will now burn in her honor.

“Out of all my grandchildren, I would say she loved life the most. She had a load of friends. She loved everybody and had strong faith. She always had a smile on her face, and Christmas was her favorite season,” Veck said.

Aliye was only 20 years old when she passed away. She was a 2020 graduate of Central High School, located right outside of Baton Rouge.

December 22, 2021 was supposed to be an exciting day for Aliye. She was on Christmas break from college and got off of work early to see her fiancé, who was coming home from where he was stationed in El Paso.

As she took Hooper Road toward Central, a driver ran a stop sign and collided with another vehicle. The impact sent the vehicle across the median, where it struck Aliye’s car head on.

Aliye was transported to the hospital and pronounced brain dead on December 23, 2021. Her family stayed at the hospital with her until Christmas Day, when she saved five lives through organ donation.

One family’s devastating loss became a Christmas miracle for the souls who received Aliye’s lungs, kidneys, pancreas and liver, and that gift of life inspired Aliye’s loved ones to advocate for organ donation in her honor.

“She’s our little hero. With all the drugs and the shootings, there’s so many people today who don’t value life. By teaching about organ donation, you can make people more aware of how we should value life. This is one way Aliye’s working to help others through us,” Veck said.

The family’s efforts have included working with the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency to pass a bill requiring organ donation to be taught in driver’s ed. During the next Legislative Session, Veck will push for organ donation to be a required part of high school health education.

Aliye’s Christmas angel will stand between the Paulina Post Office and St. Joseph Catholic Church on Highway 44 in Paulina until the lighting of the bonfires on Christmas Eve.