SAN ANGELO, TX - it's back to business as usual at the Texas College of Cosmetology in San Angelo, but students are coming back to a void. A woman who has been described as encouraging, a protector and a confidant is noticeably missing.
"She was our defender. A lot of students called her 'The Protector' because that's what she did. She was there to protect us,” Jered Lohse, a TCC student, said.
"She was like the cool aunt, you know what I mean?” Mallory Aleman, another TCC student, said.
Darlene Perez was reported missing in early April. And a few days later, on April 10, she was found dead in her car on South Jackson Street.
"Just kinda took me...I just kinda froze because you don't expect to hear that."
Around 15 students went to the site where she was found.
"Hope for the best, but expect the worst."
When the students saw her car...they knew. Now, they're trying to adjust to a new normal -- one without a woman they love and miss so much.
"She was like a mom. She was there for us. She really was. She was a great woman."
Perez, or Ms. D. as she's known here, was an instructor.
"Ms. D. was always there to intervene."
"Her warmness and her realness was so contagious that you wanted to be here. You wanted to go get her to consult your clients. She just set that relaxing vibe."
"Real mellow, real soft-spoken."
She taught her students some old-school tricks, along with the latest cosmetology techniques.
“Here I am loving the clippers like she did."
Taking the time to help each student if they were having trouble.
“And she sat down with me through the whole process."
"She never made you feel like you were inadequate. She always made you feel like you were going to do it, there was no other option but success and happiness."
“She was dedicated, for sure."
She's talked about often.
"She was the one who made us step out of our shell."
“My favorite teacher to call on was Ms. D. for most anything because she would listen, she would take the time."
"You can't get more real than Ms. D. for sure."
But those sentiments have now become only memories.
"I think she knew more about my job and me than most of my family does because she would ask so many questions. She just wanted to make sure you're ok."
"Tuesday was the last time I seen her."
"We've all kind of been going through a lot, but I mean, we have to continue the legacy because that's what she'd want us to do."
"Ms. D. wasn't the type to not show up to school, I don't think she's missed a day since I've been here."
The students tell me they want to keep Ms. D's presence alive and that they hope than any clients who sit in their chairs will see her legacy.
The students are holding a prayer service for Perez Friday night. Funeral services will be on Saturday.
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