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Ground broken on long-awaited West Mesa memorial park

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Julie Gonzales, left, whose sister Doreen Marquez is one of the 11 () ^^^^^^^^^^^ West Mesa victims, introduces Dorren’s daughter, Destinie Marquez to those assembled for a ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday for the Women’s Memorial Park. Destinie Marquez is about to begin medical school at UNM with a goal to become a pediatrician. (Steve Knight/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A long-awaited, simple and contemplative memorial park will soon stand at the West Mesa site where the bodies of 11 slain women and an unborn child were discovered in 2009.

City leaders, elected officials, family and friends on Saturday broke ground for the Women’s Memorial Park, a 2-acre site at 118th Street and Amole Mesa SW in Albuquerque, that was deeded in 2016 to the city by developer KB Homes. Other easements were finalized in April.

A group of modest wooden crosses adorned with plastic flowers have stood guard over the site, but not for much longer as city officials say construction is set to start soon.

Prior to the ground-breaking, elected officials spoke to the assembled gathering among photos of the 11 women. A small teddy bear sitting in a chair represented the unborn child of Michelle Valdez.

A small teddy bear sitting in a chair represents the unborn child of Michelle Valdez during a ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday for the Women’s Memorial Park, the West Mesa site where the bodies of 11 slain women and an unborn child were discovered in 2009. (Steve Knight/Albuquerque Journal)

After praising individuals, family and friends for working to get the memorial constructed, Mayor Tim Keller said the site would soon transform “this place of tragedy to one of healing and memorial.”

“This park will provide a sanctuary for families, friends and community members who knew these women and also a place to remember the joyful times that many of us spent with your loved ones,” Keller said to those in attendance. “While this project has taken a long time to come to fruition, I want you to know that your loved ones are not forgotten. This unimaginable grief that many of the families feel here today will not be forgotten by our city or by our police department or by those who fight everyday to prevent this kind of thing from happening.”

About $400,000 in funding came from the city, with another $70,000 provided by a state grant. However, more funding is needed, according to Councilor Klarissa J. Peña, who represents District 3, the southwest part of Albuquerque. She also recognized the work of the victim’s families to bring the memorial to reality.

“You guys have been phenomenal – your patience to work with me and the city to make sure these things happen,” Peña said to family members. “The family members picked the trees, shrubbery, the design. This is your project. We were able to contribute to it, but this is your project, your vision.”

Plans call for the park to contain an oval turf area surrounded by a sidewalk dotted with 11 engraved memorials – one for each woman. Across from each memorial, a bench will stand beneath a variety of trees selected by each woman’s relatives: Raywood Ash for Monica Candelaria and Evelyn Salazar; Virginia Cloven for Julie Nieto, Michelle Valdez and Veronica Romero; Urbanite Ash for Cinnamon Elks and Jamie Barela; and Ornamental Pear for Victoria Chavez, Doreen Marquez and Syllannia Edwards.

The case remains unsolved. Albuquerque Police Department Chief of Staff John Ross said the department will strive to bring the case to a close.

“We never want to give up hope for the victims, and we’re not going to give up,” Ross said. “Every detective, every officer who worked this case feels the same way. It’s personal to all of them. We all want to bring this case to a conclusion and provide whatever closure possible for the families.”

Family members were invited to speak. One of those was Julie Gonzales, whose sister Doreen Marquez is one of the victims.

“I’m glad it’s happening, finally,” Gonzales said. “Since the day they found my sister, they said they were going to build this park. Almost nine, 10 years later – I’m mad, but I’m glad at the same time that it’s finally happening.”

Gonzales then introduced Marquez’s children to those assembled – Mercedes Chavez, who is about to begin her senior year at the University of New Mexico, and Destinie Marquez, who is about to begin medical school at UNM with a goal to become a pediatrician.

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