She found the note in her daughter’s car a few days after she was killed.
Ariel Johnson, 21, had written down a list of baby names.
One of the middle names she had selected for a girl was Marie — her mother’s middle name.
Ariel wasn’t married and didn’t even have a boyfriend.
But she had big dreams.
And she had a beautifully close bond with her mother.
They shared clothes, makeup, shoes.
A drunk driver ended it all.
“My daughter doesn’t have a voice anymore,” Janelle Weinberg says. “Now, I’m her voice.”
Which is why Janelle, husband Steve, 40, son Dominic, 24, daughters Madison, 13, and Jenna, 10, will wear bright yellow T-shirts showing a photo of a beaming Ariel framed by four red hearts on Saturday and go on a walk.
“It’s my way of staying connected to her,” Janelle says of “Walk Like MADD,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s signature 5k to raise funds and awareness to support programs to eliminate drunk driving, prevent underage drinking and help victims and their families (click here for event details).
Ariel was killed March 10, 2013 in a violent solo-car crash in Garden Grove.
The driver, a friend Ariel had known for about 10 months, had refused an offer for a paid cab ride home from a party in Placentia.
At around 3:30 a.m. that morning, Ariel was lying in the back seat of the car when driver Shauna Ahyen, 21, of Fountain Valley, hit a telephone pole and crashed into a building on Brookhurst Street.
Ahyen and a male in the front passenger seat escaped with minor injuries.
Ariel was pronounced dead at the scene.
At 3:14 a.m. that morning, minutes before Ariel was killed, Janelle was startled awake at home in Lake Forest by an accidental phone call from a friend.
She realized Ariel wasn’t home and called her.
Janelle then sent her daughter a one-word text:
“I should have been in a state of panic, but a weird calmness fell over me and an inner voice told me, ‘It’s OK, go back to sleep, don’t stress,’ and so I did,” Janelle recalls.
The knock on the door came at 8:30 a.m., and the Weinberg family’s world forever was changed.
During the unspeakably sorrowful days and weeks and months that followed, the kindness and support of relatives and friends helped guide the Weinbergs through the nightmare.
Janelle says Garden Grove Police Officer Jason Perkins, who handled the initial investigation, also helped immensely.
“For two hours,” Janelle says, “he listened to me and my sister crying at the police station as we talked about how wonderful of a daughter Ariel was.
“He didn’t have to do that.”
Perkins also spent hours on the phone with the family answering questions about the case and comforting them.
Perkins says he plans to stop by the Huntington Beach event Saturday and say hello to Janelle and her family.
Jennifer Walker, the Orange County prosecutor who helped secure a guilty plea that led to a prison sentence of six years and eight months for Ahyen, also may stop by, Perkins says.
Ahyen is due to be released from Chino Women’s Prison in February 2020.
Meanwhile, Ariel’s family is living a life sentence of grief.
Ariel, a former El Toro High School cheerleader, was working as a nanny and attending Saddleback College, with plans to become a pediatric nurse or teacher, when she was killed.
She loved country music and Mexican food, and adored children so much her family nicknamed her the Baby Whisperer. Little ones would just climb into her arms.
When her mother and father divorced and Janelle remarried, Ariel acted as a second mother to her young half-sisters, driving them to school, taking them to Chuck E. Cheese’s, and helping around the house with cooking and cleaning.
Madison wrote an essay “Sadness” for a school project shortly after her big sister died. It reads, in part:
I can’t help but cry and go in
to her room.
I keep forgetting. I have to tell
my sister is gone
but she will live in my
Jenna, remembering her older sister in her own writing, penned of Ariel:
Even though she will not guide me through the rest of my life, she taught me one last life lesson: Choose your friends wisely.
Dominic doesn’t like talking about his late sister — it’s too painful — but said of the upcoming walk:
“I do it for family, and for my memory of her.”
This is the second year in a row Janelle and her husband will lead their children and close supporters as “Ariel’s Angels” at Walk Like MADD in Huntington Beach.
Last year, Ariel’s Angels raised $6,000 at the Orange County event. As of Tuesday, they had raised about $2,500 (to contribute, click here).
Friends and loved ones of Ariel have started other Ariel’s Angels teams in Phoenix, Denver, Seattle and Boise and participate in MADD events in those cities.
Janelle urges zero tolerance when it comes to drinking and driving, and she and her family believe penalties need to be stiffened for offenders.
Janelle wonders if the public’s behavior about drinking and driving ever will change.
More than 1,000 people attended Ariel’s memorial service on March 16, 2013, but two girls there ended up getting DUIs in the months that followed.
What’s it going to take, she wonders, for people to be more responsible?
“This tragedy is real and happens to everyday families — it can happen to anybody,” Janelle says. “Don’t be afraid to speak out and save a life. Take a stand.”
A “Vows to Our Daughter” plaque hangs in an area of the Weinberg’s home filled with photos and items related to Ariel, including her beloved brown leather boots she was wearing the night she died.
There are 10 written vows.
One stands out as the Walk Like MADD event looms:
We vow to save at least one other family
from the tragedy we are living.