JEFFERSON PARK — Arnelis “Nelly” Flores was always checking up on her friends and relished winning arguments with her loved ones.
Flores, 14, died last week after a crash on the Eisenhower Expressway on the West Side, officials said. The Jefferson Park teen is being mourned by a group of close friends and her large family, said her mother, Jennifer Flores.
“Everybody who knew her knew that she had a heart of gold,” her mother said. “She was always the one to stick up for anyone being bullied and was reaching out to friends who had issues with suicide.”
Nelly Flores loved to dance, make videos on TikTok and spend time with her sisters, her family said. She had recently graduated eighth grade and was excited to attend Taft High School, a family tradition, her mother said. She had hoped to become a lawyer because she loved to win arguments.
On July 17, Nelly Flores and two of her sisters were driving home with their father when he pulled over on the expressway shoulder, Jennifer Flores said. The family was coming home from a sports car meetup that involved fireworks, drag racing and alcohol, she said.
A driver rear-ended the side of the car where Nelly Flores was sitting, Jennifer Flores said. All of the people involved were seriously injured, an Illinois State Police representative said. Her daughter died in the hospital last Tuesday.
Jennifer Flores said her 12-year-old daughter, Lulu, who was sitting across from Nelly Flores in the back seat, has minor injuries.
“It’s a miracle that my 12-year-old came out fine,” she said. Lulu “said Nelly is the only reason why she is still alive.”
The Illinois State Police representative said the crash is under investigation and did not provide additional information.
Jennifer Flores was 17 years old when Nelly Flores was born. Before, her life was difficult; she felt lost in the world, would get into trouble and didn’t have direction, she said.
But then her eldest daughter arrived.
“She is the reason why I changed my whole life. … She turned me into a hard-working mother and made me a better person,” Jennifer Flores said. “She grew up to be like me but even smarter. She was like the mom to her other siblings — she didn’t do stupid stuff.
“She spent her whole life with me, but I only got to spend half my life with her.”
After hearing the news, relative Stephanie Perri created a fundraiser to help the family. More than $12,000 was donated almost overnight for Jennifer Flores to help with funeral costs and expenses during the tragedy.
“I am a mom and I can’t even fathom what she is going through,” Perri said. “I didn’t know how to help … but the one thing I know is, especially when you are grieving, you should not have to worry about paying money. I want them to have a weight off their shoulders for a bit. I want them to give [Nelly] a proper burial.”
The family has received more than 160 donations and positive messages, which has made Jennifer Flores and Perri feel better and will allow Nelly Flores to have a proper sendoff.
“I want to make sure that wherever she is buried, it’s beautiful,” Jennifer Flores said. “I want a beautiful plaque, too.”
The family decided to donate Nelly Flores’ organs to people in need so her spirit can live on, her mother said. Two recipients have already been found to take her liver and kidneys.
The 31-year-old mother wishes she could get her daughter back, but knowing Nelly Flores’ organs are helping others is small comfort, Jennifer Flores said.
Jennifer Flores is grateful for all the financial support and is asking for more money that will help her pay bills, rent and balance child care since she’s needed to take time off work, she said.
“Money won’t bring her back, but I have three other kids to worry about,” Jennifer Flores said. “The support system gives me a weight off my shoulders.”
The family has experienced multiple hardships and lost other loved ones throughout the years, making Nelly Flores’ death even more difficult to process, Jennifer Flores said. But if extra money is donated to the family, they hope to use it for sprinkles of happiness.
“We have been suffering … so maybe a getaway for me and my family. We need some happiness,” Jennifer Flores said. “Everybody hold their children tight, because you just never know.”
You can donate to the family’s fundraiser here.
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