The Gang's All Here

Her grandmother will never forget the day Venus Montoya died. And she will never forgive her killers.

Venus was a friendly girl. The boys, of course, would flock around at the local park whenever she, Vanessa and Gina, their sister-in-law, held court. Venus loved children and was the first to lead the youngest members of the family--many of whom were also living with Becky--to the park for a picnic or out into the street during a rain shower until they were all soaked to the bone. But she seemed happiest sitting with her female relatives on the front porch of her grandmother's house, whistling at the boys who walked by, talking and laughing late into the night.

And like her mother, Becky noted, Venus loved to sit quietly looking up at the stars.

Only at school did Venus's slow start seem to affect her. She tried, but she never quite caught up to others her age. Becky figured that was why her granddaughter dropped out of school, pregnant, at age fifteen. For all her looking at the stars, Venus had very down-to-earth dreams. She wanted only to be a good wife and a good mother.

Becky and her husband did not believe in abortion. But they also knew the odds were against a fifteen-year-old single mother with no high-school diploma. The young man who'd gotten Venus pregnant wasn't going to help--he was a "mistake," she said. The family was poor; still, Becky told Venus that they would find a way to pay for an abortion if she decided to go that route. But Venus wanted her baby: Half a dream was better than no dream.

Venus's labor was long and hard, a full 24 hours of agony before her son was born. Asked soon afterward by her family what she was going to name the child, she had laughed and replied, "Asshole," because of the pain he had caused her.

Fortunately for the boy, Venus had another name picked out: Angel, after the character she'd once seen in the old Jimmy Stewart movie It's a Wonderful Life.

It might not have been a wonderful life, but it was a good one. Venus rarely left Angel for more than a few minutes during his first two years. She didn't date and saw only those friends who dropped by. She was content to stay home and raise her baby.

Angel was as beautiful as his name, with his big brown eyes and long lashes. And he loved his mother. If someday, Venus told her grandmother, she could find a good man to love her and her child, then she would have everything she needed to be happy.

But Venus was young, and staying cooped up in her grandmother's house gradually wore thin. When she was seventeen, she began going out with friends and dating again. Still, she always came home to Angel.

Becky met most of the young men who courted Venus. They seemed all right. But she worried about gangs; there was so much pressure to join that even nice boys and girls sometimes fell in with the wrong crowd.

Sometimes, Becky thought, Venus was just too nice for her own good. She was always bringing stray girls home. "Mom," she would say, "this girl has no place to stay tonight. Can she stay here?"

Becky's house was nearly always full of people, mostly family members like Gina, whose husband--the twins' brother--was now in prison in Canon City. Privacy was nonexistent. So many children ran from room to room, it was difficult to keep track of who belonged to whom...except that in one way or another, they all belonged to Becky. There really was no more room, but Becky wouldn't turn Venus's friends away.

Venus seemed to have a heart with no boundaries. In the spring of 1996, when word arrived that her father was in the hospital dying, Venus went to see him. He had never been there when she could have used a father; perhaps if he had been, things would not have turned out as they did. But Venus forgave him and remained at his side until he was gone.

In June, a few months after her father died, Venus announced that she and Angel were moving into an apartment. One of her new friends had been kicked out of her parents' home and needed a roommate.

"I have to grow up," Venus told her worried grandmother. "I need a place of my own."

Becky's worries were magnified when she learned Venus intended to move into the apartment complex on Sheridan Boulevard. She feared for Venus's safety and begged her to look elsewhere. But Venus wouldn't listen.

Only two weeks after she moved into the apartment, though, Venus seemed to have changed her mind. She complained that she didn't know many people in the complex and that the few she did know only wanted to party all the time. Her family worried about these new friends; the boys who hung around the apartment were reputed to belong to gangs.

Then on Monday, July 15, Venus called Becky. She'd had a frightening dream about two devils who were trying to get at her and had woken up that morning unable to shake her fear. "I want you to come and pick up my son," Venus told her grandmother. "I don't want my baby to get hurt."

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