Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
ESPAÃ’OLA – The community of Española and the surrounding area came together Saturday to remember Renezmae Calzada, the little girl with long black hair and an adoring smile whose body was found in the Rio Grande near Santa Clara Pueblo on Sept. 11.
Close to 200 people attended a memorial Mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, requiring the opening of the choir loft to accommodate everyone. At least as many, including New Mexico’s governor, then attended what Renezmae’s family referred to as a “thank you” reception at the Santa Claran Events Center.
Donovan Maestas, the cousin of Renezmae’s mother’s, Victoria Maestas, told the gathering at the reception that the family wanted to recognize the efforts of local, tribal, state and federal law enforcement officials and everyone else who volunteered in the search for the 5-year-old girl, who went missing while playing in the front yard of an Española neighborhood Sept. 8. He said while he’s heard a lot about the evil in the world the past few days, he knows there’s also good.
“I witnessed it,” he said.
The family member said everyone could rest assured that Renezmae was safe at home now.
“Mae Mae found her way home,” he said. “It may not be the way we wanted, but she’s home.”
Renezmae was last seen about 9:30 a.m. Sept. 8, a Sunday. Her body was found in the river three days later near Santa Clara Pueblo after a massive search by law enforcement agencies and volunteer civilians.
Close to two dozen law officers with Española police, the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office, New Mexico State Police and other agencies attended the Mass, including Sgt. Chad Melvin and officer Anthony Martinez of the Albuquerque Police Department’s Open Space Search and Rescue and dive team. They helped in the search and in recovering Renezmae’s body.
“This one really affected us,” Melvin said, explaining why he made the trip up from Albuquerque to attend the Mass. “We came to pay our respects. We all have small kids, so this one really touched us.”
Many family members wore memorial T-shirts to the Mass and reception. Renezmae’s photo, depicting her as an angel, smiling and with her hands held together at her chest, was set against a pink background on the back of the black shirts, along with the words “Remember Mae.”
At the Mass, Donovan Maestas, who was the only family member to speak at the Mass and reception, eulogized Renezmae by saying that “nothing shined brighter than her smile.”
Another trait Renezmae possessed was generosity, he said. She was always willing to share.
Renezmae also had an unbreakable bond with her little brother, a toddler they call Nacho, he said.
Maestas said that while collecting photos of Renezmae for the memorial, Nacho would point to pictures and say, “Sis, sis.”
“He (Nacho) will always, and it’s important for us, to remember Mae,” Maestas said.
During the service, which included hymns sung in both English and Spanish, Deacon Alex Valdez also referred to Renezmae’s “infectious smile.” He said she will also be remembered as an incredibly inquisitive little girl.
The deacon said that it’s important for everyone to find a way to come to terms with Renezmae’s tragic death. He told them that what happened was in no way God’s will.
“He shares in your pain and your desire that justice be done,” Valdez said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, invited by the family to speak at the reception, told the gathering that it’s important for all New Mexicans to remember that our families and our children are precious.
“And as a state, and as a community, we must do better,” she said, closing her remarks with a reminder that innocent children must be looked after and cared for. “You need to love them every day, not just today. We have to do better as a state every day, not just today. And we have to keep Renezmae close to our hearts and just know we will … do … better.”
Police agencies say they have no suspects in Renezmae’s death. But Victoria Maestas’ ex-boyfriend, Malcolm Torres, was arrested the same day Renezmae went missing on outstanding warrants for failure to comply with sentencing requirements in a DWI case in Albuquerque. Maestas had gone to court against Torres in recent weeks over custody of Renezmae and another child, according to court records. She also alleged abuse by Torres and had filed for a restraining order against him.
A table at the events center was filled with flowers, prayer candles, and a pair of Renezmae’s teddy bears, and the walls were decorated with handmade sympathy cards created by Española school children.
“You didn’t deserve this but (you’re) in a better place now,” said one signed by Natalia.
Another read, “We will miss you. You were our heart and joy. You were like a sister to me. I will miss you. Rest with angels.” It was signed by Lynnia.
The reception also included a performance by Native American drummers, singers and dancers.
Renezmae’s mother, Victoria, is from Santa Clara Pueblo, and a statement from the family last week said Renezmae’s funeral would “be performed in traditional Native American practices.”