Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Julie Gonzales figures it is about to time to let her sister “fly with the angels and be free.”
She believes the creation of the Women’s Memorial Park in memory of the victims of the West Mesa murders gives her a chance to do just that.
The park at 118th Street at Amole Mesa Avenue in Southwest Albuquerque was dedicated Saturday morning, 11 years after the bodies of 11 women and an unborn child were found in shallow graves at the site.
“It’s worth the wait,” said Gonzales, whose sister, Doreen Marquez, was one of the victims. “It gives me a place to hang out.”
City Councilor Klarissa Peña described the effort to create the park “a long haul for the families.”
“Some family members had been missing for as long as 2003,” Peña said. “They’ve been waiting since 2003 for closure.”
Peña, along with late City Councilor Ken Sanchez, had been among the leaders of an effort that included other city officials and members of the Legislature.
Peña said victims’ family members were also part of the effort.
“The family members are the ones who have come together, and they designed this park,” she said. “They did the markers. They picked their family member’s tree to represent their loved ones.”
Other trees are also planted in the park, to represent other women in peril.
During his prayer and blessing of the park, Roman Catholic Deacon Juan Barajas said the site had gone from being “a place of suffering, pain and death” to a reminder “of how precious life is.”
Mayor Tim Keller called the park a place to remember and celebrate the lives of the women who were murdered and said it is also a place for “the daughters, sisters, mothers, husbands, neighbors and friends” who were left behind.
“In some ways I think they (the victims) are now helping us, protecting us so that this kind of thing does not happen again,” the mayor said.
Destiny Marquez, Doreen’s daughter, said the support the families have received and the fact that people want to recognize the victims “means a lot to us.”
But to Jane Padilla, mother of victim Veronica Romero, the ceremony was bittersweet.
“I’m happy they finally finished it,” she said, “but I’m sad my daughter is not here.”
Christine Ross and her dog, Ruca – who found a bone that led to the discovery of the bodies – made the trip from Flagstaff for the ceremony. Ross said she believed “divine intervention” led them to the bodies “to help bring your loved ones home.”
She expressed hope that the families would finally find justice.
Keller said the cases remained open and urged people with information about the murders to contact Crime Stoppers.
In addition to Romero and Doreen Marquez, the other victims honored at the park are Jamie Barela, Monica Candelaria, Victoria Chavez, Virginia Cloven, Sylannia Edwards, Cinnamon Elks, Julie Nieto, Evelyn Salazar and Michelle Valdez and her unborn child.