No matter how packed the Free Week shows all across downtown Austin get this week, there will be a big void in those crowds. That’s the consensus of just about everyone who knew Esme Barrera, an El Paso native and true believer of bands all over Austin. She was killed in her home early Sunday morning.
Austin Police have no suspects and only a general description of the man believed to responsible for the death of Barrera, 29, and attacks against two other women earlier that night in the area around the 3100 block of King Street and the 300 block of East 31st Street. Police found Barrera’s body in her home, hours after she had attended a New Years Eve show at the 29th Street Ballroom featuring a mixture of musicians and friends who saw her as something of a guiding light in the Austin music community and a regular, carefree face at clubs such as Emo’s, Mohawk, Beerland, Red 7 and others.
“She was one of those people where you were instant friends once you met her, and you realized we had so many other people in common we knew because she was always at shows, she was always at parties and she just loved music so much,” said Eric Robinson, a friend and neighbor of Barrera’s who lives about two blocks from where the attack took place.
“You see so many people talking about her on Facebook and even though there are 400 or so people on there who are calling her one of their best friends, with her they mean it because she could hang out with anyone and she drew people to her. Wherever the two or three best shows were happening any night, she’d find a way to be at all of them and you knew you’d probably see her if you went out.”
Word of Barrera’s death began to spread quickly through social media Sunday, even before police identified her as the victim in the attack. Tributes like this from Matador Records owner and scene regular Gerard Cosloy appeared by Tuesday and a donation effort is under way to help cover expenses for her funeral, which is expected to take place next week in El Paso.
As a teacher’s aid at Austin’s Casis Elementary (she was nearly finished with course work to get her teaching certificate) Barrera showed an innate ability to work with children of all ages and was an enthusiastic supporter of the young women she helped find their way on stage as a counselor with Girls Rock Camp Austin.
“She was awesome at it because it gets hard to keep the attention of students who are 10, 11, 12, working eight hours a day for a week, but even when they were drained she kept them interested and knew how to keep things going,” said Alyx Vesey, an instructor at Girls Rock Camp Austin who worked with Barrera over the last three summers and authored this memoriam to her on her blog:
Once I met her I saw her everywhere, and it’s certain she was there long before I ever knew her because she was involved in everything, knew which bands to listen to and even though Austin can be pretty scene-y she was friends with everyone, which is why so many people are distraught. She was a real believer and in a music city like Austin you need people championing the bands and whether it was bands she already knew about or the groups she was working with at Rock Camp, she’d tell you if she thought someone was really on to something and you needed to hear it."
Asked whether Barrera’s death will create a tangible void at Austin shows going forward, Vesey said friends in the scene will almost certainly carry on her spirit, or do so as best they can.
“No one’s going to be able to replace her, and I’m sure there will be some sort of shows in her memory or maybe a scholarship for Girls Rock Camp in her honor, because she mattered to so many people. As long as people go to rock shows, or any shows really, and have the kind of fun she had we won’t lose Esme. As long as her friends are there to keep her memory alive, she’ll be there.”