They came in droves.
Family members of slain Utah radio personality Gabriela Sifuentes Castilla, better known as Gaby Ramos, were overwhelmed as friends, fans of her programme and neighbours showed up outside her Salt Lake County home to pay their respects. Some brought flowers, others came with devotional candles or balloons and all agreed on the legacy that Ms Ramos leaves behind: one of selfless kindness and generosity.
“She was a DJ but she was also much more — she was a sister, a friend and a mother. And I don’t know of anybody who didn’t love her,” Ms Ramos’ sister Rocio Sifuentes told the huddled crowd.
“She always did things better than me. She always finished everything she started, she was always put together and I always told her she was the perfect version of the woman I aspired to be.”
Ms Sifuentes says she was with Ms Ramos on Sunday, 17 October when her sister’s ex fiancé, Manuel Omar Burciaga Perea, is accused of showing up around 1am to claim an engagement ring.
After a call was placed to 911, a loud knock came from the front door and she says the pair thought it was a responding police officer.
Instead, Mr Burciaga Perea is accused of returning with a gun and allegedly shooting Ms Ramos multiple times. Ms Sifuentes says she held her dying sister as she took her last breath.
The following morning, the Taylorsville Police Department shared pictures of Mr Burciaga Perea, who they considered to be “armed and dangerous.”
And during Tuesday’s vigil, the department said it had secured an arrest warrant against the suspect.
“It gives us solace that authorities are working on it,” Ms Sifuentes said. She then thanked community members for their support in sharing her sister’s story. “You have been a balm for my soul,” she said, holding back tears.
Activist Martha Black was among those present. She remembers Ms Ramos as a “marvellous woman” whose “light has not been dulled and voice has not been turned off… she was positive, she was happy, she was sunshine.”
Calling on the Gabby Petito case, Ms Black asked the media present to continue sharing Ms Ramos’ story and image after the initial wave of interest quiets down.
“We saw how much attention other women have had in the media — that’s a fact. Black and brown women deserve the same attention… We deserve the same exposure. We want Gaby’s face in the media every single day,” Ms Black, who met Ramos shortly after she arrived in Utah said. “She matters. Her life matters.”
Chants of “Justicia para Gaby” then flooded the air, as Ms Ramos’ nine-year-old daughter, Julieta, distributed glow stick necklaces to attendees — purple in honour of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“Look how many people who love you are here,” Monica Acuña said, microphone in hand. “No doubt you achieved your goal of affecting lives, raising up women’s voices and leaving a good future for your daughter. Don’t worry about her; there are several people here who will look out for her and take care of her.”
Ms Acuña, who worked alongside Ms Ramos at KMRI La Más Picosita, also called to end the stigma in Latino communities around domestic violence.
“Women, men, this message is for everyone,” she said. “You don’t have to stand for anything that offends you, that hurts you. There is help for you out there… speak up so that there’s not one less among us.”
According to a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, more than one in three Latinas (34.4 per cent) reported being victims of a partner’s sexual/physical violence or stalking. That number is expected to be higher since the pandemic, thanks to factors like healthcare access, cultural proclivities, language barriers and immigration status.
“Nobody deserves for their life to be taken like that regardless of your status,” Ms Acuña continued. “We are all the same here. We came to this country to have a better future and we all have rights.”
Her message was echoed by the radio station, which has shared resources and information for those experiencing domestic violence across its social channels since Ms Ramos’ death.
Following the speeches, Ms Acuña blared some of her friend’s favourite songs from a portable speaker including “Afuera” by Mexican rock band Caifanes and Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” as family members made their way through the crowd offering sweet bread and atole, a traditional drink made from masa, to those in attendance.
As people began to disperse and the flicker of candlelight reflected on a poster-size portrait of her sister, Ms Sifuentes was overcome with emotion.
Speaking with The Independent, she referred to the past 72 hours as a “living hell,” and said the family wouldn’t stop until it had answers. “It’s been hard, but we want justice,” she said, “so that women who are out there experiencing violence will speak up.”
She also thanked neighbours, law enforcement and staff at the Mexican consulate for their ongoing support. “It gives me strength,” she said.
Ms Sifuentes hopes the outpouring of support resonated with her orphaned niece.
“My wish for her is that she grows up in a safe country,” she said. “That she knows we love her and that she has a whole community backing her.”
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