Isabel Villalobos De Vasquez spent her last Tuesday preparing beef stew and rice over open flames outside her Damascus church. It was something she’d done many times before — cooking food to sell to churchgoers after services at Iglesia Pentecostal Camino a la Vida Eterna to raise funds for mission trips and other causes.
But something about Tuesday night felt extra joyous, said Claudia Rivas, a friend and fellow congregant.
“She was laughing, I was laughing, we were singing and we were rejoicing and praising, and it was just amazing,” Rivas said. “Little did I know that that was my goodbye with her really. We were saying goodbye to each other in a very special way.”
De Vasquez died in a shooting Thursday outside a shopping center in Lansdowne, where she was struck by a bullet that police said was meant for someone else. She was 78.
The shooting was spurred by an altercation between two men, neither of whom knew De Vasquez, according to police. It was less than a mile from her home of the 400 block of Bigley Ave., where she had moved in the last year with her grandson, Rivas said.
“She had a grandchild who she really, really loved and his doors were always open,” Rivas said.
Tom Quirk, the county councilman who represents the district, said Friday night that De Vasquez’s death is “tragic and alarming” and that he has been in contact with police about leaving “no stone unturned” in finding and apprehending those responsible.
“We are throwing the whole kitchen sink into resolving this terrible incident,” Quirk said. “I have zero tolerance for something like this in our community.”
A native of El Salvador, De Vasquez made frequent trips there to visit family. Though she was a permanent resident of the U.S. and working to obtain citizenship, she never forgot her homeland. She often sold her desserts and tamales to raise money for churches in need in El Salvador, in addition to causes her church was supporting, Rivas said.
De Vasquez, a longtime resident of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, didn’t let the move to Baltimore County stop her from getting to church. She’d been a member of Iglesia Pentecostal for 18 years, Rivas said.
Rivas would frequently give De Vasquez rides to church, and the women participated in the same Bible study. She said De Vasquez always offered words of encouragement for congregants who wavered in faith and friends who encountered difficulties.
When Rivas struggled with a pregnancy, De Vasquez was constantly checking on her — before and after her baby was born.
“She’s a very, very loving lady,” Rivas said. “Wherever she went she left a mark — a mark of love, a mark of encouragement.”
Interiano said her family and friends in Maryland plan to hold services locally before her body is returned to El Salvador.
Baltimore County police are still searching for the men involved in the shooting that killed De Vasquez. Police ask anyone with information to call 410-307-2020 or 1-866-7LOCKUP.