Part of the problem was that Rachel, who was 21 years old and lived in Longmont, was conflicted about her devotion to a violent gang life. Her friends and family say she felt it was time to move beyond it in both her lyrics and her future.
She never had a chance to see that through. When Rachel arrived in Denver, she and Garcia spent some time visiting on the front porch of Garcia’s house, drinking and listening to Motown oldies — a style of music that Rachel loved and sampled in her own songs. At one point, the two decided to walk to the corner of Valentia Street and Colfax Avenue and bum a couple of cigarettes from people on the sidewalk. Afterward, they headed back toward Garcia’s house.
That’s when a silver-gray Jeep Cherokee came roaring down the street and screeched to a halt beside them. According to what Garcia later told the police, two people were inside the car, and after a verbal altercation with the girls, she heard a woman shout, “Just shoot ’em, baby, shoot ’em!”
Nearly eight months have passed since Rachel was shot dead that day. In that time, La Baby Smiley has become something of a cult icon among Latin rap fans, with a popularity that has exploded in part because of an album released posthumously by her producer. It’s an edgy compilation, full of Rachel’s words glorifying gang life, violence and drugs.
The sudden fame seems surreal to her parents and siblings. Recently, a fan from California asked for a close-up photograph of Rachel’s face so he could get it tattooed on his body. The family also heard from a friend in Monterrey, Mexico, who’d seen a pair of pedestrians wearing “RIP Baby Smiley” T-shirts. When the friend exclaimed, “Hey, I used to kick it with her in Colorado!” the strangers didn’t believe him, like there was no way he was important enough to have known La Baby Smiley.
Online, the Baby Smiley Facebook page has doubled in the number of followers, from 9,000 to 18,000 fans, since her death, and includes communications from people in more than 140 countries. The Aboytes family receives messages from people in Brazil and Chile, even messages in Japanese characters. Sometimes they come from countries the family has never heard of.
Like that of Tejana legend Selena Quintanilla, Rachel’s murder has created an aura of mystery that shrouds her life, reputation and music. Some tales are apocryphal, such as the ones from fans who claim to have seen her perform at shows that she never participated in. Others are real, like the one about a man pulling a gun on her during an argument in the parking lot of a Longmont 7-Eleven. Rachel, hardened by her past, just looked at him and laughed: “You don’t have the balls to shoot me.” And she was right.
Although police have identified at least one suspect, no one has been charged with Rachel’s murder, and her family is frustrated with what they see as a lack of progress in the case.
But there’s also a weightier concern that lingers: Is this the kind of popularity that she would have wanted? Even as her fame and image proliferate — and a record label sells tens of thousands of copies of an album that she never signed a contract for — Rachel’s friends and family say that prior to her death, she was thinking of moving away from rap music, or at least of changing her lyrics to convey a more positive message. Although they are proud that her talent is being recognized, they feel torn as they watch that image, one that Rachel may have no longer wanted, spread among a global community of Latin rap fans.
If there’s any certainty about the music Rachel left behind, though, it’s in the authenticity of her lyrics. She was no stranger to the streets. As her brother, Daniel, puts it, “Everything she wrote, she lived.”
Rachel Aboytes was born in 1993 in El Paso, Texas, but spent the majority of her youth in a small town on the plains of Kansas. Home to 21,000 residents, Liberal is a regional hub for Midwestern truckers, cattle ranchers and farmers.
The fourth of five children, Rachel lived with her parents in a three-bedroom unit in the Western Mobile Home Park. Across the street was another mobile-home park, Cimarron Heights, and Rachel’s world was centered around the two communities. There never was much excitement to be found in Liberal, but Rachel and her siblings managed to create their own fun. By the time she was nine years old, Rachel had already adopted a wild lifestyle.
At night, groups of young Hispanic kids from the two parks would gather to drink, smoke and dance to cumbia music. Because they were younger, Rachel and her sister Rebecca were not supposed to participate, but their older sister, Eunice, never tried too hard to stop them.
“We would just force our way in,” Rebecca recalls with a laugh.
By this time, Daniel, the oldest sibling, had moved to Colorado, and their little sister, Naomi, was too young to know what was going on. But the middle Aboytes sisters developed a reputation as a hard-partying pack — with nicknames based on seniority. Eunice, the oldest, became “Smiley,” because when she smoked weed, she would get a goofy grin on her face. Rebecca, next in age, became “Lil Smiley.” Rachel, the youngest of the three, was dubbed “Baby Smiley.”
Initially, Rachel was seen as the shy one. At parties, she would drink quietly, sitting and observing the others. As Eunice remembers, “I would see her in the chair, and I could tell that her head was spinning.” But gradually, Rachel emerged from her shell. By the time she was twelve, she could chug an entire bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, belting out the lyrics to Motown oldies, especially songs by the Supremes. She also became known for her distinctive laugh, a high-pitched cackle that people still mention with fondness on her Facebook page.
“We were a rebellious group, I’m not gonna lie,” Eunice says.
The primary target of the Smileys’ rebellion was their parents, deeply religious immigrants from Mexico who had experienced a much different upbringing than their daughters. Strict about rules, the Aboytes parents tried to force their children to go to church and to obey curfews, but because both parents worked night shifts at a retail store, they had trouble monitoring their daughters’ behavior.
Besides, there was more going on at the mobile-home parties than general revelry. Many of Eunice’s friends were associated with Sur 13 — the Sureños gang.
Established in California in 1968, the Sureños were originally made up of Hispanic street gangs that paid tribute to the Mexican Mafia in exchange for protection for members who were incarcerated in California’s prison system. Rival gangs associated themselves with the Norteños. Both factions grew over the years and spread to other states.
In Liberal, members of the local Norteños gang were known as “Folks.” The more time that the Aboytes girls spent around their Sureños friends, the more they were convinced that nothing was worse in life than being a Folk. Throughout their upbringing, Rachel and Rebecca were witness to multiple Sureños initiations, including one at which initiates were made to fight senior gang members in a test to see how well the recruits would defend the Sureños name on the streets.
“Don’t get out of the car. Cover your eyes,” Eunice had instructed her younger sisters. Rebecca still remembers seeing sparks fly off the shoes of one of the fighters.
The exposure to gangs only intensified as the girls grew older. The two younger Smileys saw people get jumped, saw older friends hit hard drugs. Rebecca and Rachel even started fighting each other, when the Sureños men wanted them to practice their melee skills. “That was entertainment for us,” Rebecca explains.
More and more, the girls felt drawn to the gang. It provided an adrenaline rush. It was exciting. Dangerous. Most important, it meant support from people with similar Hispanic roots, a group affiliation that gave them purpose in white middle America. Soon enough, Rebecca says, “the gang was inside us.”
Of all the girls, Rachel seemed the most unassuming. Book-smart and a gifted writer, she “would get mostly A’s in school,” Rebecca recalls. “Everyone thought she was the good one — the least troublemaker — but in reality, I think she was the most sneaky.”
Beneath the Baby Smiley veneer, Rachel developed intractable grit, taking it upon herself to defend the Sureños’ honor whenever anyone dared to dis her gang. This included a time when she beat another girl so badly that the girl’s parents called the police. When they saw the severity of the scratches on their daughter’s face, they thought that Rachel’s father must have been the one responsible.
By the time Rachel was fourteen, her parents had had enough. Eunice had already run off to Minnesota once, and Rebecca had been sentenced to a juvenile boot camp, so when they caught Rachel trying to escape through a bathroom window and run away from home for the third time, they knew it was time to leave Kansas. They decided to move to Longmont, where Daniel lived. They hoped the move would steer their daughters away from gangs.
Rachel wasn’t pleased about the family’s move to Colorado. She liked her life in Kansas and was bitter about leaving her friends behind. Still, even she had to concede that there were some upsides to living in Longmont: the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the many things there were to do. Her parents recognized this as well, and hoped that access to things like movie theaters, shopping centers and nature would keep Rachel out of trouble.
“She didn’t even last a week,” Eunice says.
Just a few days after enrolling at her new school, Rachel saw a classmate wearing red — the traditional Norteños color — and asked the girl if she was associated with the gang. Given the turf wars in Kansas, it was what Rachel expected. The girl said no, but Rachel couldn’t hold back; her instincts had been honed. She rushed her classmate, tackled her to the floor and started pummeling her face.
Rachel was suspended from school and charged with assault. But that was just the beginning of her troubles. Days later, she and her sisters were walking near the school when they came across another classmate.
“Hey! You’re the girl who beat that other girl up, huh?” the boy said.
“Yeah, and I’m gonna fuck her up again!” Rachel shot back.
The verbal threat violated a restraining order that had been filed against Rachel by her victim, and so once the story worked its way back to school administrators, the police were notified and Rachel was arrested.
Such was the state of affairs when Rachel met Patricia Moreno, a gang-prevention specialist with the City of Longmont who later became one of Rachel’s friends and mentors. At first, Moreno says, it was hard to believe the story.
“Here’s this petite, tiny young woman, and I’m thinking, ‘No way. Everyone is making a big fuss about this little thing?’” Then she noticed Rachel’s hands. There were multiple tattoos with “S” on them, dots, the number 13.
Regardless, the two clicked. Moreno had family members who were gang-affiliated, so she understood Rachel’s mentality. She and Rachel also fashioned themselves in a similar style. Rachel had never seen a professional who applied makeup the way Moreno did, using dark eyeliner and dark lipstick, with her hair slicked in an old-school Latina style. Moreno could also tell that Rachel was extremely loyal as long as you earned her trust...and didn’t smack-talk the Sureños. She was unusually sharp and clever with words. She’d even mentioned that she was thinking about becoming a lawyer. Moreno saw potential, if only she could persuade Rachel to move beyond her infatuation with the Sureños.
The two began meeting in 2008, after Rachel had served a short stint at the Platte Valley Youth Services Center in Greeley and was transferred by the state to the Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center in Lakewood, where she served a two-year sentence in the Rite of Passage program, a military-style boarding school designed for juvenile offenders.
The living quarters at the center comprised four units of ten girls each, all between the ages of 13 and 21. According to Ana Karen Rodriguez, one of Rachel’s friends in the ROP program, the units were divided based on the girls living in them. One was the mental-health unit. Another was the high-risk unit, which housed girls deemed likely to attack staff members, including a girl who was rumored to have killed her mother.
Ana and Rachel’s unit was named Pinnacle, but the girls preferred to call it “the Mexican unit” because of its racial makeup.
Despite the rigidness of the program, Rachel did well with routine, even liked it. She worked out regularly. Rachel and Ana became known as the “ab queens” for their obsession with abdominal exercises, and Rachel would run laps as a stress reliever, becoming the second-fastest runner to complete the facility’s 2.5-mile course.
Moreover, she rediscovered an interest in academics. In 2010, she was selected as one of Denver Public Schools’ Mile High Scholars, for which she attended a ceremony at the Buell Theatre and met then-mayor John Hickenlooper. Rachel’s mother was proud, and her relationship with her daughter improved as Rachel came to appreciate the hardships and sacrifices her parents had confronted in coming to America.
More than anything, though, Rachel’s sentence allowed her to develop her talent for rapping. She had long been a rap fan, and she would occasionally freestyle in Kansas when she and her sisters were at parties, but she had never dedicated much time to it. And if there was anything she had in abundance at ROP, it was time.
Not that rapping was allowed in the facility. But Rachel managed to write and practice her lyrics, a mixture of English and Spanish, when staff members weren’t around — “on the sneak,” as her friend Ana puts it. She had lots of material to draw from: her trouble with the law, the wild parties and intoxicated nights in Kansas, her affinity for the Sureños.
Rachel’s sisters still remember the day that Rachel unveiled her song “Criminals” to them in a packed visiting room. It was a routine visit, with people clustered around tables, when suddenly Rachel stared intently at her sisters and began knocking on the table to provide a beat.
The room fell silent as she began to flow:
By the time she finished, all eyes in the visiting room were upon her. The elder Smileys were stunned. They couldn’t believe the lyrical fire of their younger sister.
“Wow, I didn’t even know you could do that!” Rebecca exclaimed.
Eunice agreed. “That was badass! We need to get your music out there!”
With more practice, Rachel’s flow just got tighter. She even began rapping for Moreno when she checked in for visits. By the time she completed her sentence at ROP, everyone there knew about the rap chops on La Baby Smiley.
Once back in Longmont, it was freestyling all the time. Rapping at parties. Rapping at home. It just seemed to come naturally to Rachel. Eunice remembers how her sister would ask her to write lyrics with her. “After thirty minutes, I would just have a few lines, and she would have the whole sixteen bars already.”
Not that Rachel knew much about music terminology or how the industry worked. The first time someone asked her to sing a cappella, she responded, “A cappella what?”
She also tried recording at the youth center in Longmont where Moreno worked, but the center wouldn’t allow her to record songs about gangs or songs that contained profanities. That left only one or two songs that Rachel could work with.
Finally, another rapper pointed her toward a recording studio called Yo’ Hood Entertainment on East Colfax in Aurora. There, Rachel found access to professional audio equipment — this time without any restrictions on lyrics. The studio charged by the hour, so Rachel would split the payments with her sisters, sometimes cleaning a house or two to cover the fee.
The crowd around Yo’ Hood was mostly made up of black male rappers, but they appreciated Rachel’s moxie. It was unusual to see a Chicana rapper in Colorado, and a good one at that. Even the studio’s producer, nicknamed “the Hood Father,” had to admit: That Baby Smiley got down.
By this time, Rachel was also cultivating a character for herself, blending chola-style makeup, Dickies pants and pencil skirts with a more retro, pachuco look that incorporated suspenders and fedora hats. The pachuco style in particular became Baby Smiley’s signature, a throwback to the Mexican zoot-suit era of the 1930s and 1940s. Baby Smiley was like the classic Mexican gangster reborn, complete with the old Spanglish slang with which she peppered her lyrics. It sounded like no one else.
Her first performance was an opening gig at the Rodeo Nightclub in Denver, where she performed only two songs because that was the number of backing tracks she had with her — beats that she’d found on YouTube. Still, she received an enthusiastic response to her song “Criminals,” the same rap she’d performed for her sisters in the visiting room and by now had also posted online in a webcam video.
That video ended up opening the next doors of Rachel’s career, when Ruben “Ice Pick” Cardenas saw it on YouTube.
Even though “Criminals” only had 150 views at the time, it was exactly what Cardenas had been searching for. Since starting the label Cirkulo Asesino in 2009, the California-based producer had primarily recruited older male rappers from Mexico, Spain and Brazil for his roster. He knew it was time to find some younger talent, a female artist if possible. Even so, he never expected to come across someone of Rachel’s caliber. This is probably the best Latina rapper I’ve seen, he remembers thinking. The intensity and vitriol of La Baby Smiley’s delivery was mesmerizing. He saw tremendous potential, and because another label executive from Chicago had shown him the video, Cardenas raced to represent Rachel before any of his competitors.
It was Eunice who first saw his Facebook message, while Rachel was taking a shower. All three Smileys knew of the Cirkulo Asesino name, and Eunice couldn’t contain her excitement. She pounded on the bathroom door. “Hey, Rachel, you just got word from Pikahieloz [Ice Pick]!”
Rachel didn’t hesitate at the chance to join Cirkulo Asesino’s roster.
But she never signed a contract, nor would she ever sign one. Cardenas advised her not to, recounting negative experiences he’d had himself when signed to a major label and recording with a group called Kartel de las Calles. Instead, he promised to cover her recording costs and return 20 percent of whatever he made on her songs, his going rate.
“Signing to a major label sucks. It turns this into a job,” Cardenas explains. “I’m not in it for the big payout. My artists understand that they can leave if they want to.” Instead, he tells them that he prefers to work by palabra — spoken agreement.
Rachel was fine with the arrangement, grateful that Cardenas had plans to make her a star. Based on Cirkulo Asesino’s previous successes with an artist named Mr. Yosie in Mexico, Cardenas planned a collaboration video between Yosie, Baby Smiley and another of his new recruits, Florida-based rapper Triste De Nemesis. Triste was the only other Cirkulo Asesino artist in the United States at the time, and he agreed to meet Rachel in Denver to shoot their part of a music video for “Southsiders.”
Triste was responsible for filming the video, as well, and he asked Rachel to assemble some friends, a lowrider, a pit bull and some interesting locations for shooting ahead of time. When he arrived, he was pleased and surprised by her selections: “Oh, man, you have a tattoo machine?”
As it was Rachel’s first music video, Triste also offered her some pointers. “I told her how to act — how to bring out your character. Music videos are about more than rapping,” he says. It turns out he needn’t have worried about Rachel’s performance. “She took the spotlight,” he says.
“No one else rapped Spanglish like her, and so all these young li'l gangsters started following her.”
The pair lost a full SD card worth of footage during filming, but they still had enough material to piece together the video, and they used the star power of Mr. Yosie’s name in the credits. It was the exposure Rachel had been waiting for.
Eunice remembers that she and Rachel were at a Rent-a-Center superstore the moment the video went live. “Ooh, ooh, lemme see, lemme see!” Rachel said, squeezing her head next to Eunice’s to watch the video on a phone screen. It looked so badass — the hydraulic bouncing of the lowriders, Rachel flashing a handgun, the way her hands moved along to her flow. After the video ended, Eunice and Rachel looked at each other with serious expressions and shook hands, then broke down laughing at how silly and formal they were being.
Over the next few days, comments poured in. Being a Sureños anthem, the song received the expected fuck-you retaliations from Norteño commenters. But there was also wide praise for the new face of Cirkulo Asesino. One user even wrote, “La Baby Smiley was the only good rapper on here…”
In just a few weeks, the video topped 500,000 views (it now has 2.3 million). Rachel called Triste to marvel at their success: “Look how many views we’re getting!”
Cardenas’s plan had paid off. “No one else rapped Spanglish like her, and so all these young li’l gangsters started following her,” he says.
Rachel’s shows also got bigger. She played a packed house at Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins and a couple of shows at the Roxy Theatre in Denver. In spring of 2014, Cardenas flew her to California to perform at a lowrider expo in Ventura for Cinco de Mayo. When the event’s organizer wouldn’t let Rachel perform on the main stage because her clothing suggested affiliation with the Sureños, she performed anyway, but to her own crowd, using a car’s sound system for her backing tracks.
For all the momentum that was building, there were still some things holding Rachel back.
“Rachel had this thing where she would doubt herself,” Rebecca says. Despite the confidence in La Baby Smiley’s persona, she acted as though all of the attention was a fluke that could end at any moment.
Cardenas noticed these same doubts, which he agrees held her back. “She could have recorded three albums by now,” he says.
Since there was no contract, however, he never wanted to pressure her, a fact that her sisters confirm. “I just wish she could have seen her potential,” he says.
By mid-2014, Baby Smiley’s fledgling career was already stalling. She would occasionally ask Triste about making more videos, but it was hard to meet because he was in Florida. She also needed the structure that she had gotten accustomed to at ROP.
Finally, there were the ever-present temptations of her old gang life.
“She was too attached to the street,” Triste says.
Even after Rachel left ROP, Moreno continued to work with her on a biweekly basis, trying to convince her to write a letter that denounced her gang so she would be eligible for a subsidized tattoo-removal program. After years of arm-twisting, Rachel eventually agreed to write the letter, which focused on how being associated with Sur 13 had damaged her relationship with her mother. As a result, a doctor at a Longmont Clinic donated time to cut out some of her dotted tattoos. Others were lasered off.
Moreno believes Rachel’s mother was the key. “It was so tricky working with [Rachel], because you couldn’t show disrespect toward the gang. But when it came down to it, the mom was a lot more powerful than the gang.”
Still, Rachel relapsed in late 2014. It began one night in August, when she and Rebecca were with a woman they didn’t know well who had promised to share some marijuana with them at her house. The idea of a bowl or two sounded good to the Aboytes sisters…until the woman exited the car and they noticed she was carrying a red backpack. No Sureños ever wore red, and so they knew she must be with a rival gang. It piqued both Rachel and Rebecca that they had been fraternizing with an enemy. The woman, sensing a fight, ran into her house and wouldn’t come back out, even as the Aboytes sisters challenged her with phone calls. Eventually, the sisters gave up and left. Not long afterward, however, the same woman called to say, “Come to the liquor store. I’m ready to fight.”
Rebecca says that when she and Rachel arrived, there were three men waiting for them in a lowrider; it was a trap. But when one called Rachel a bitch, she couldn’t resist punching him in the face. A scuffle ensued, and a liquor-store employee called the police. Everyone split before the cops arrived, but Rachel was fingered as the initiator of the brawl, and a warrant was issued for her arrest.
She was eventually sentenced to fifteen days in a halfway house, followed by probation. It was a wake-up call for Rachel, who had mostly avoided trouble since leaving ROP. She promised her family that she would turn her life around.
And things did start looking up. Rachel began dating a man she’d met at the halfway house who her sisters say was kind and supportive.
Then, another friend from the halfway house helped her get a job, which was a requirement of her latest court order. In early 2015, she started working at Lucky’s Market in Longmont as a pizza chef.
But stability and routine weren’t what Rachel was known for, in life or in her lyrics. And when she started looking at those lyrics, Rachel’s family believes, she realized that they advocated the very things she was trying to get away from. According to her sisters, this hit home one day when Rachel visited her boyfriend’s home and saw that his younger sister had a taped a Baby Smiley poster on her wall, with Rachel wearing gang colors and looking thug.
She started thinking about all the people her actions had hurt and how she didn’t want other young girls to fall into the same patterns. Her mother thinks this is why Rachel was too embarrassed to even play her music in front of her.
Around January and February of this year, Rachel made a series of shocking announcements.
There was the night at dinner when she blurted, “Mom, I want to go to church again. I think we should all go to church.”
There was a call to Cardenas. “Look, there’s something I gotta tell you. I’m not really feeling what my music is saying anymore.”
A call to Moreno: “Pattie, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m hurting other kids — what messages I’m sending.”
And she told her sisters that if she continued rapping, she wanted to change her lyrics to address positive things and bigger issues, like politics, deportation and amnesty.
“In [Rachel’s] last three months, she was very happy,” Eunice says. “She fell in love, she had a job. She was planning on moving out to her own place.”
Moreno remembers thinking, “Oh, my God! All those years of working together, and she’s finally getting it.”
It seemed that in her 21st year, Rachel was finally making moves to better her life.
The events of March 24, 2015, remain a nightmare for all who knew Rachel. That day, she was off from work at Lucky’s and decided to head to Denver to hang with her friend Valeria Garcia. The two first met at a Baby Smiley show at the Roxy Theatre in 2014 and had been close ever since.
“Like everyone in life, she matured. But this is all she got to really do, and I think she'd ultimately want people to hear her songs."
They were walking back to Garcia’s house after bumming cigarettes along Colfax and were at the intersection of Valentia Street and 16th Avenue when they saw the silver-gray Jeep Cherokee coming toward them from the east. The two women scurried across 16th to get out of the way, but the car came to a stop beside them. Garcia, the only witness to see inside the car, says that it contained two occupants, a man and a woman, both African-American.
The female passenger began to swear at them, says Garcia. “So we turned around and were like, WTF? Why are you tripping out?” she recalls. “They were so angry, we thought they were going to come out and beat us up.” Not one to shy away from confrontation, Rachel escalated the verbal argument. Then Garcia heard the woman inside the vehicle yell, “Just shoot ’em, baby, shoot ’em!”
Shots rang out.
Garcia’s mother, who was standing outside her home, remembers seeing the altercation and yelling, “Hurry up, hurry up, get inside!” But it was too late. Rachel fell to the ground as the car took off. Garcia, who was not hit, hugged her friend and felt a pool of liquid forming underneath a rib on her right side.
“They got me,” Rachel gasped. “I can’t breathe.”
While her mother called for an ambulance, Garcia began yelling at the top of her lungs, “Who shot my homegirl, who? Why don’t you shoot me?” In a rage, she fetched her own handgun from her house, then ran into the street and fired repeatedly into the sky. “You just can’t think — there’s so many things going on in your mind,” Garcia says now. “I was in a rage. They could have hit my mom or my daughter.”
Rachel was rushed to Denver Health Medical Center but died at 9:08 p.m. Doctors found two gunshot wounds — one under her right armpit and one on her left leg.
The Aboytes family first heard about the shooting when Garcia sent Rebecca a Facebook message saying that Rachel had been hit. She couldn’t elaborate, though, because she was answering questions from police. So Rachel’s family began to panic, not knowing if she was alive or dead. Rebecca rushed to the hospital, but no one there would tell her where her sister was. And according to the Aboytes family, none of them were able to find out anything until the next morning, when a representative from the coroner’s office called Rebecca and confirmed that Rachel had died.
Since then, their shock has turned to grief and then anger. Both the Aboytes and Garcia families maintain that it hasn’t been any easier to obtain information from Denver law enforcement officials than it was on the night of the murder. The Garcias have moved to New York for the time being; as the primary witnesses to the shooting, they are afraid for their safety.
For starters, the families would like to find out who killed Rachel, and why. A search warrant filed by Denver Police Department detective Bruce Gibbs in April does identify a possible suspect, one whose name first surfaced from “word on the street,” according to the document. Arrest records pulled for that individual show that he is currently serving time for weapon and drug charges in Arapahoe County Jail.
But the family says they didn’t know about the suspect until October, even after a Denver Post story named him in July. They didn’t know that DPD had retrieved footage of a vehicle matching Garcia’s description from a HALO camera on Colfax. The time stamp on the footage is 8:26 p.m., two minutes before the first 911 call. Nor were they aware that a bullet casing matching one found at the murder scene had been discovered in a silver-gray Jeep that the suspect had rented on the day of the shooting.
Detective Gibbs says he has kept the family updated and that he can’t comment to Westword on an open investigation.
When Rachel’s identity was released to media outlets on March 25, many comments piled up under news reports that pointed out Rachel’s prior gang affiliation — fueling speculation that her murder might have been ordered as a hit. However, as the details stand, it does not appear that her murder was premeditated.
Still, Rachel’s history with the Sureños is something friends and family have had to contend with. At Rachel’s funeral, on March 29, Moreno says she removed a blue bandanna — a symbol of the Sureños — from the coffin.
Later, Rachel’s mother addressed those gathered. “I want to talk to all you young people here who knew my daughter, who knew a side of Rachel that we didn’t teach her. My hope for each and every one of you is that you stop now.”
She believes that Rachel was trying to do just that.
The irony is that now her gang history has taken on a new life.
Just weeks before her death, Cardenas says, Rachel told him she still wanted to record a full-length album, just not with all of her old songs. Instead, she wanted to start from scratch. Cardenas says he agreed and told Rachel he would fly her out to California to record in a new studio he was building in his garage. In the meantime, he arranged for Yo’ Hood to send him all of her master recordings.
When Rachel was killed, Cirkulo Asesino helped start a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the funeral. The campaign raised more than $1,200.
At the ceremony itself, Cardenas, who had flown to Colorado, approached Rachel’s mother and asked permission to compile an album using the older recordings. Usually he splits his revenue twenty-eighty with artists, but he offered the Aboyteses a fifty-fifty cut, he says, plus the proceeds from a commemorative T-shirt he planned to make.
Rachel’s mother was initially wary, given her daughter’s doubts about the content of her lyrics, but she eventually agreed, mainly because much of Rachel’s music was already posted online in one form or another.
“Besides, it wasn’t going to return my daughter,” says her mother, who asked that her name not be used for this story.
And although she gave Cardenas the go-ahead, she decided not to sign the contract he offered her because, like Rachel, she was never really interested in money. The contract, she points out, also had her name spelled incorrectly.
She probably should have signed it, though.
Cardenas says that Baby Smiley’s posthumous album, Soy La Baby Smiley, has become his label’s second-best-selling record, with combined CD and digital sales approaching 40,000 copies. This despite the fact that he hasn’t been able to take the record commercial through a major distributor because Cirkulo Asesino doesn’t hold the rights to some of the oldies sampled in Rachel’s songs, like “A Breathtaking Guy,” by the Supremes. Within the next couple of years, he hopes to save enough capital to pay all of the mechanical licensing fees that would allow Rachel’s album to be distributed through a label like Universal.
He also created a website, lababysmiley.com, where Cirkulo Asesino sells La Baby Smiley merchandise and promotes her image.
But no one is certain it’s the image Rachel wanted to sell. Most of her songs glorify the gangster life, praising the Sureños and bashing the Norteños, or advocating violence and drug use. For example, on the mastered version of “Criminals” that Cirkulo Asesino released on the album, Rachel precedes her rap with the intro, “For all my Sureños out there, staying true to the blue. Fuck the Reds!”
Moreno, the gang-prevention specialist, refuses to buy the album. “This was a part of her life, but she was starting a new chapter,” she says.
Triste is also leery. After Rachel’s death, he decided not to release original video footage that the two had recorded for a second video, “You Don’t Want to Fuck With Me,” because he felt it contained the wrong sort of imagery. He says Rachel had also called him in early 2015 to say that she wanted to deliver a more positive message. “So I didn’t want to release something that would be against her wishes,” he says.
At the same time, Triste understands the awkward position his label is in: “All she left was this gangster image.”
Cardenas hesitates when he considers what Rachel would have wanted. “That’s a difficult question to answer. Like everyone in life, she matured. But this is all she got to really do, and I think she’d ultimately want people to hear her songs.”
He adds that he would still honor the fifty-fifty contract with the Aboytes family if they should ever choose to sign it.
For their part, the Aboyteses say they don’t feel taken advantage of by Cirkulo Asesino, but different family members have coped in their own way as they try to figure out the meaning behind Baby Smiley’s growing popularity. Rebecca and Eunice have been touched by the outpouring of sympathy for the loss of their sister. Daniel sees a moral and religious lesson in her life: “If God sees you really want to change but you’re not able to, he takes you.”
The reality is that for better or worse, Baby Smiley’s legacy has now extended beyond their control. No matter how fans choose to remember Rachel, her friend Triste only sees her popularity growing. “I think there’s more to come from her.”