Lori Piestewa’s family carries on legacy 20 years later

Days after then-President George W. Bush announced the invasion of Iraq, Piestewa's convoy took a wrong turn, and the 23-year-old was killed in an ambush.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 7:29 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 23, 2023 at 8:31 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- For Percy Piestewa, 20 years went by in the blink of an eye. “It seems like yesterday,” she said. “We have good days, we have bad days. God gives us the strength to override the bad days and remember all the good things. My good things are Brandon and Carla.”

Percy Piestewa is Lori Piestewa’s mother. She and her husband raised Lori’s children, Brandon and Carla. The two kids were just three and four years old when Lori was killed. The entire house has reminders of Lori in every room. Piestewa is now a household name in Arizona, with Piestewa Peak and Piestewa Freeway named after her. “When I hear it, it’s usually from friends like ‘oh, it’s your mom’s name’ and I’m like ‘oh cool,” Brandon Whiterock, Lori’s son, said.

Brandon’s recollection of times with his mother is sparse. A therapist once told him traumatic and especially joyful moments would be all he recalls. “One of my favorite memories I have of her is once they found out she was being deployed, my grandmother and grandfather would take us to El Paso every other week, and we would go to the base and see big machinery,” said Whiterock.

Lori’s decision to join the military was spurred by the desire to provide for her kids. “I was OK with it, my husband was not. I never knew the perils of war. I never knew what a war situation was. My husband was in Vietnam so it took a toll on him,” said Percy Piestewa.

But Percy and Terry Piestewa promised to look after Lori’s kids. Then, just four days after then-President George W. Bush announced the invasion of Iraq, her convoy took a wrong turn, and the 23-year-old was killed in an ambush near the city of Nasiriyah. “I remember being told my mother was an angel, and she was always there, but I never really truly sat down and was talked to about what happened,” said Whiterock.

Whiterock said he never asked questions. It wasn’t until adulthood that he understood. Then, questions about his mother’s military service on his college application prompted him to finally get the answers. “I Googled everything, searched everything up, read stories, saw videos, and at that point of my life, it was really dark,” he said.

But luckily, that darkness was short-lived. Now he has graduated from NAU and works there full time in Veteran and Military Service, and he power lifts in his spare time. He has moved back into the family home with his grandmother. His grandfather passed away in 2017.

And Carla is now a beautiful young woman and a spitting image of her mom. She is studying to be an esthetician. The children remain close to their grandmother. “People would ask me are you mad at somebody for Lori dying? Are you mad at the colonel for losing his way? I said no I can’t. God gave me a gift for 23 years and I would’ve never had these two (Brandon and Carla) if he hadn’t done that,” Percy Piestewa said.