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Stabbed In the Heart

When Laura Martinez was killed while helping a friend, her family's dreams died, too.

The first in a string of thirteen murders in Aurora that began Labor Day weekend barely made a ripple in Denver--six execution-style homicides the next day guaranteed that. But that first murder made headlines in Mexico and destroyed a family's nine-year-old dream of building a life in the United States.

On the night of September 5, Laura Rosa Martinez-Cuevas, 22, was stabbed to death in a domestic quarrel. The alleged killer wasn't even her lover; he was her friend's ex-boyfriend. In the tangled web of her life, he was also a cousin of the man who had fathered Laura's baby. Laura was trying to help her friend get away from him when she was killed.

And while the next day's murder of six people sparked a nationwide manhunt for suspects, those who witnessed Laura's death have slipped quietly out of Denver and back into Mexico or border towns in Texas. The suspected killer, eighteen-year-old Said Omar Hernandez-Montoya, whose street name is "Bozo," is being held in the Arapahoe County Jail without bail.

The only member of Laura's family who remains in Denver is her twenty-year-old brother, Guillermo Martinez Jr., who returned after his sister's September 9 funeral in Torreón, Mexico. Guillermo, the member of his family who was closest to living the American dream, is now giving it up. The only reason he came back to Denver after the funeral, he says, is to sell the family house and earn enough money at his assistant manager's job at Gart Sports to return to Mexico and take care of his sister's orphaned baby, Guillermo III, who was born last December 20.

"My whole dream was to stay here for the rest of my life," says Martinez, wearing wire-frame glasses and a soccer-ball pendant on a chain around his neck. "Now that whole dream is broke. Now we start from zero. I guess everyone in the family figures if we're going to lose something else, we want to lose it in our own country."

Despite the outpouring of help that his family received from Denver's Hispanic community (one anonymous person even paid for a funeral home to ship Laura's body back to Mexico), Martinez appears to be living alone in a bad dream.

The family's small house on Grove Street near Alameda and Federal looks like it was abandoned suddenly and unexpectedly. Several cars remain parked in the driveway with their windows partially rolled down. Toys are sprinkled in the yard as if it were still summertime.

"I was scared when I first came back to the house," says Martinez. "It wasn't like I was looking at Laura's ghost. I was just looking at reality."

Guillermo Martinez Sr. came to the United States in 1988. Two years later, after he'd saved and borrowed enough money to buy the house on Grove Street, he sent for his wife and three children.

"It was the typical Mexican dream to go across the border," recalls Guillermo Jr., "even though my dad is one of those super-patriotic guys who didn't really like the U.S. I think he wanted to go back to Mexico. And Laura didn't really want to come. I was twelve and she was thirteen when we came, and she hated it. The way of life was just too hectic for her."

The culture shock never faded for Laura, according to her brother. She held down menial jobs at a nursing home and at fast-food restaurants like Taco Burro. "I remember her last paycheck," Martinez says with a smile on his face. "It was for $141 for fifteen days of work. She thought it was a great paycheck."

After finishing high school, Guillermo studied computer science for a year at Metropolitan State College. "I was going to school from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30," says Guillermo, "and then working from 1:30 p.m. to 10 putting computers together. I got burned out. And because I was only making $5.50 an hour, I could barely make it. I was broke to the bone."

While he was struggling with school and work, his sister started dating "Cheo," the man who soon impregnated her. Guillermo thinks Cheo is now in Juarez, Mexico, but he isn't sure and doesn't appear to care. He says Cheo was never around, anyway. But Cheo's cousin, Omar ("Bozo"), was dating a friend of Laura's named Lydia Rodriguez.

Omar's mother was also acquainted with Laura's mother. Guillermo says that at one point several years ago, his mother asked Omar's mother to be her coyote--a person who brings people across the border illegally. Lydia Rodriguez and Omar's mother worked at the same cleaning company, Maid in America. (After the murder, Lydia gave her boss's pager number to police as a way to get in touch with her. "All of a sudden, Lydia quits and takes off to El Paso, and I'm getting all these calls from the cops," says the company's owner. "Nobody even told me there was a murder.")

"It was only after Laura died that I started thinking about all these connections," says Guillermo after arranging keys and silverware on a table to demonstrate the relationships between his family and that of the alleged killer's. "Life takes you strange ways."

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