ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Shortly before 7 p.m. Thursday, a couple hundred friends, neighbors and community members poured into the parking lot of the Arroyo Villas apartment complex to pay their respects and grieve for 10-year-old Victoria Martens.
“I know she is in a better place now, but I can’t believe that happened to her,” said Jessica Quintana, 15, who used to babysit Victoria. “She was so young. I miss her.”
Through tears, Quintana remembered how Victoria loved the movie “Frozen” and singing karaoke. She said they used to talk about how much the girl enjoyed school, and she never sensed anything was wrong in the home.
Police arrested Victoria’s mother, Michelle Martens, 35, along with her new boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, 31, and the boyfriend’s cousin, Jessica Kelley, 31, in connection with the rape, killing and dismemberment of the girl on Wednesday.
As parking spaces filled up for the evening vigil, mourners left their cars double parked and made their way toward a growing memorial for the slain girl. Balloons, flowers, cards and stuffed animals were left in her honor around a tree on the corner near the apartment where she had lived in Northwest Albuquerque.
Brent Lenentine, a minister with the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Rio Rancho, addressed a crowd of parents with small children standing shoulder to shoulder with their heads bowed over lit candles.
They sang “Amazing Grace” and “Happy Birthday” to Victoria — who was killed the day after she turned 10 — and Lenentine led them in a prayer. Across town at Civic Plaza, another group gathered to mourn the death of the girl.
Lenentine said he was asked to lead the vigil because many of the families living in the apartment complex attend his church. The church would send a bus each week to pick up children who wanted to go to church, and occasionally Victoria and her younger brother went along.
Steven Ponce, a bus captain for the church, said the siblings attended at least one night of the annual Vacation Bible School in July, and he had talked to Martens about joining the church.
“I’d seen her (at the apartment complex), and I went upstairs and asked her about coming to church,” Ponce said. “She kindly declined, and that was it.”
Gov. Susana Martinez, Attorney General Hector Balderas and other state and local officials condemned the killing and called for justice in the case.
Mayor Richard Berry held a mid-day news conference, speaking to the horror of the case and assuring the public that the police will bring the offenders to justice.
Lenentine said it’s important to pray not only for the family and those who knew and loved Victoria, but also for the community as a whole.
“We come together because we don’t know what else to do,” Lenentine said. “It’s a way we can show our support and our unity together.”