She told people it would happen.
“I’m going to die,” she said.
Paloma Sanchez, 19, might have meant that death seemed inevitable because of how far she had strayed into a life on the darker fringes, used, abused, discarded, unwilling or unable to pull herself back, to reach out to those who truly loved her and wanted to save her.
But Selena Sanchez said she thinks her younger sister meant something more urgent, more specific.
“She knew they were going to kill her,” she said. “She already had the sense of what was going to happen to her. She told a few people this. They told me that she said when she died everybody was going to be sorry.”
In the darkness of a cold Christmas morning, Paloma had been found near death, shot in the face and lying in the parking lot of the Madeira Court apartments, at Madeira and Kathryn SE.
Three days later, she was taken off life support, her death coming just three weeks after her birthday.
Sanchez never had the chance to ask Paloma who “they” were or why they wanted to kill her.
“There were not always consistent ways to contact her,” said Sanchez, who hadn’t seen Paloma since November. “We didn’t have a cellphone number. She was living from house to house. All we knew was she rode a bike to get around.”
Albuquerque police have said frustratingly little about Paloma’s death – the 79th homicide last year – other than a white SUV with an unknown license plate number was seen leaving the area after shots were fired.
Hours later, Christian Frescas, 39, became the 80th homicide victim when he was found shot to death near a car lot at Lomas and Louisiana NE. Twenty-eight miles away in Rio Rancho that afternoon, four members of the Velasquez family were found shot to death in their home in an apparent murder-suicide.
It was the Velasquez case that received the most public attention that holiday.
It’s been four weeks since Paloma’s death, and it’s time she got attention, too.
“She may have been a transient in those last months of her life, but there are people who loved her,” said Edwina Leal, who cared for Paloma during her time at Assurance Home, a center for at-risk and runaway youths in Roswell. “She was like a daughter to me.”
She was the girl with the big brown eyes who looked at her world with skepticism and reticence, a young woman whose weight and hygiene fluctuated so drastically, depending on what was happening in her life, that in some photos it’s hard to tell who she is.
Who she was was someone who almost all of her young life had struggled to fit in, to be loved, to be who she dreamed she could be.
On her Facebook accounts, she barely knew the words to describe herself. On one, she wrote that she was “sweet funny careinng understanding down to earth.” On another, she wrote that she was “a person who never had anyone now I trying to change well am back to old me what’s up we can get i,” her words trailing off as if she didn’t know or care enough to finish a thought about herself.
Paloma, one of eight siblings, had grown up mostly in foster care, Sanchez said.
“She had been in every shelter or program or psychiatric hospital in the state,” Leal said. “And then she came here when she was 15, and things started to change for her.”
Leal said she saw something – a joy, a sense of humor, a spark – that just needed a little love to coax out. Leal gave her that love. Paloma called her Mom.
“I did everything with Paloma,” she said. “Oh, my goodness, she was so funny. We laughed all the time. We had the most insane conversations over mundane stuff. We went camping, shopping, her first trip to the ocean – or anywhere outside New Mexico. She’d always text me: ‘Good morning, Mom,’ and send a million selfies.”
Paloma confided in her that she feared turning 18. Leal tried to convince her that she had people in her corner even when she aged out of foster care – that Leal would be there for her.
But at age 17, Paloma fought to leave the Roswell program, saying she couldn’t get along with some of the girls at the home.
“I asked her to stay,” Leal said, her voice breaking. “I said, ‘Why can’t you stay?’ And she said, ‘Mom, you can’t fix it this time.’ ”
Both Leal and Sanchez say they believe Paloma was a victim of human trafficking then and in younger years and that after she blew out of another foster home she went back to the streets.
Leal said she lost touch with Paloma after she turned 18. When she he
ard that a 19-year-old woman was found shot on Christmas morning, Leal said she knew it had to be Paloma.
At a candlelight vigil organized by Sanchez on Dec. 29 at Madeira and Kathryn, people brought red balloons and flowers. Leal was there, too, as were two foster mothers who had loved and cared for Paloma. Years before, Leal had driven Paloma to this neighborhood to search for her own mother, who used to live there.
Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Paloma’s case is being actively investigated. Sanchez and Leal say it doesn’t feel that way.
“I do wish there would at least be an update or some way to communicate with us,” Sanchez said. “We don’t even know who the detective is anymore. It’s like nothing is being done for my sister.”
All that had been done for Paloma in her life was not enough to save her from all that had been done to her, they said. The latter is a lot to be sorry for.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.