MINERAL SPRINGS, Ark. – A town of a thousand recently grew by two in southwest Arkansas.
Sabine Durden and Anthony Coulter live on their own street in Mineral Springs, signs greeting drivers who can find it with “Welcome” and “Willkommen” for their German visitors.
A pickup truck with a “Dom Hugs” sticker on the back window is parked in the driveway.
A large tree with Mardi Gras beads hanging from its branches lures the more curious guests to the Angel Garden.
Wind chimes make the serene, rural spot even more peaceful.
Inside their eclectic home the husband and wife built from the ground up, a man’s face and name adorn the furniture and walls: Dominic Durden.
Dominic’s name also appears in tattoos on Sabine’s arm. His ashes fill a heart locket around her neck.
All of it helps her remember her only child.
“His intense laughter that was just infectious,” she said as she started to cry. “His hugs. His Dom hugs. I just miss everything, and it’s five years later.”
Sabine and Dominic made a life together in Moreno Valley, CA.
“Dominic was a huge part of our community,” she said.
He was a 911 dispatcher, a licensed pilot, a volunteer firefighter and Volunteer of the Year for his city.
Dominic was on the road to becoming a motorcycle cop and eventually a member of the helicopter team for the police department.
“He packed about 100 years into 30,” Sabine said.
In the summer of 2012, Dominic dropped his mom and stepdad off at the airport for a family reunion across the country in Atlanta.
“I hugged him, and I almost fell into him,” Sabine said. “He just swung me around.”
It was her last Dom hug.
“It was 5:45 a.m. in California on July 12, 2012,” Sabine remembered. “That exact moment my son was killed.”
Dominic was riding his motorcycle to work. His coworkers didn’t know why he was late until they got the 911 call.
“They started screaming,” Sabine said. “A truck came toward him, turned in front of him and hit him almost head on, so hard that it threw him over the truck into a wall on the sidewalk and killed him instantly.”
Sabine found out later the driver was a convicted felon, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. Juan Zacarias Lopez Tzun’s rap sheet includes convictions of armed robbery and grand theft.
Tzun was deported but came back.
His first and second DUI: probation.
His third: Dominic’s life.
“If at that point somebody would have stood up to enforce our laws, my son would still be here,” Sabine said.
According to court records, Tzun got two misdemeanors, vehicular manslaughter and being an unlicensed driver. He was sentenced to nine months in jail and five years probation.
“That’s all my son’s life was worth,” Sabine said.
Tzun was ultimately deported a second time.
“Close sources that I trust a thousand percent believe he’s back,” Sabine said.
With Tzun out there and her son everywhere, California no longer felt like home.
It got to the point where Sabine didn’t want to live any more.
Her husband helped her find new life with his family in Mineral Springs.
“He brought me here to Arkansas on this same spot I’m sitting on now, but it was all brush and just wild,” she said. “He said, ‘Well, can you imagine living here?’ And I was like, ‘No.'”
But now after nine months, Sabine couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“I am such a proud Arkansan,” she said. “I love it. I love the different seasons, the calmness, the quiet.”
However, Sabine is no longer quiet.
“You start waking up and paying attention differently,” she said. “I learned it’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s an American issue. People say, ‘Well, Americans hurt and kill, too.’ Well yeah, but they have a right to be here.”
Sabine met President Donald Trump and told him her story. She was then thrust into the national spotlight, speaking at the Republican National Convention, testifying in front of Washington judicial committees and meeting with members of Congress on immigration policy.
“If you want to come to this country, which I think is the greatest country because it’s so generous and everything, but you have to do it the right way,” she said. “You have to do it the legal way.”
After all, that’s what Sabine, a German, did.
“I am a legal immigrant so I came here, too,” she said. “I had to go through all the changes and testing and paperwork.”
Her immigration policy would be called, “Americans First.”
“If you’re illegally here from Germany, I would tell you the same thing, ‘Get back in line!,'” she said. “You can’t just walk into my house through my front door and say, ‘Well, I don’t have nothing out there. I need to live here now.'”
For the ones who skipped the line, Sabine is working toward stronger laws when they commit crimes and more resources for their victims.
“I became an activist for my boy,” she said. “I’m the proudest mom ever. Still am.”
Dominic made Sabine a mom. Now, it’s her identity.
“Even the president greets me as Dom’s mom,” she said. “I mean, just saying it makes me kind of like, ‘Who would have thought five years ago?’ Like him or not, he gave Dominic a voice.”
That’s why Dom’s mom became a voice for other victims’ families.
“Different rocks with the different names for each victim,” she said as she lifted one after the other from under the tree in her Angel Garden. “The saddest part is there’s about 20 of them here, and I know their parents.”
Dom’s mom shook her head because the number keeps growing.
“I wish I would never have to write another name on a rock,” she said.
But one will always hurt the most.
“I feel him at times,” she said. “There are times when he’s holding me up. He won’t ever be forgotten so his legacy carries on.”
From an Angel Garden in Mineral Springs to the “Dominic Durden Trailhead” at a park in Moreno Valley, Dom’s mom will never stop sharing his story.
She and six others with similar stories started Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC). Their goal is to promote awareness and fight for change to immigration policy.
To learn more about Dominic and Sabine’s story, visit the Dom Hugs website.
Jessi Turnure, also the host of Capitol View, will continue the immigration debate during this Sunday’s show at 8:30 on KARK-TV directly before NBC’s Meet the Press.