Community comes together to weep, support families

As scores of mourners scattered, seeking refuge from sudden chilly gusts of rain, Luz Kordell remained.

Dripping wet, she waited last night for a chance to pray with the families of three young children brutally killed last week in Northwest Baltimore.


Kordell, a Head Start teacher who taught the cousins of the dead children, said she wanted to offer her personal support.

"I don't care if I get wet," she said, shivering. "I came to be with them."


Once the shower slowed, more than 200 mourners emerged from the cover of umbrellas and awnings to take part in a candlelight vigil in front of the upper Park Heights Avenue apartment building where the children were slain.

Hour of tears

The children's parents and other relatives sat in rows beside a podium, clutching each other and sobbing throughout the hourlong gathering.

Two other family members - Policarpio Espinoza, 22, and Adan E. Canela, 17 - are jailed in the city's Central Booking and Intake Center, accused of murdering 9-year-old Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., his 9-year-old sister, Lucero Solis Quezada, and their 10-year-old cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada.

The children were found dead in their home in the Samester Parkway Apartments last Thursday - one of them decapitated, the other two partially beheaded.

Mourners, from teenagers on their bikes to grandmothers with children in tow, gathered with candles and held tissue to dab their eyes. The service was delivered in English and Spanish, with both a priest and a rabbi offering prayer and solace.

Mayor Martin O'Malley told the crowd he was proud to see Baltimore residents of all faiths and backgrounds coming together.

"There are some crimes that strike so deeply at the fabric of our humanity that as a people words will not allow us to make sense of it, he said. "But we find strength in the love we have for each other. I look out at faces and through their sadness I see white faces, black faces, Jewish and Christian, Hispanic and Asian."


Latino community

The gruesome deaths horrified most Baltimoreans, but perhaps nowhere more than along the commercial hub of the city's Latino community in Fells Point.

Amid the burgeoning Latino business corridors of Eastern Avenue and Broadway, customers and merchants said their community has mourned especially deeply for the slain Mexican children and their families.

"I still can't believe it - there's no excuse for anything like this," said Sonia Bullinger, who owns Estetica Latina, a hair salon on Eastern Avenue. "These people were supposed to be family."

Bullinger was shocked not only at the crime, but later when she realized she had a personal connection to the suspects. She said yesterday that both Policarpio Espinoza and Canela had been customers at her shop for years and she had seen them on occasion in the Broadway area.

"It's like you know someone who is a client for years, and then this happens," she said. "The younger one was always very shy, but neither of them would talk much."


Several storefronts down Eastern Avenue from the salon, at Tortilleria and Tacos, where a stack of fresh tortillas costs $1.50, Oralia Gomez said she couldn't shake the fear she has for her own children, even though police have suspects in custody.

"I still don't want to let my kids outside," said Gomez, originally from Mexico, who lives with her 6- and 7-year-old children in the same neighborhood where the killings occurred. "No one can believe that this happened to three little kids."

Elsewhere, signs of support cried out from grocery store counters. Beside the register of Tienda y Restaurante la Guadalupana on Eastern Avenue, a wallet-sized photo said to be of Lucero and Ricardo - smiling, bundled in winter coats and standing ankle-deep in snow - was affixed to a cardboard box.

A note attached to the box asked in Spanish for donations to help the families send the children's bodies to Mexico for burial.

The owner of the Mexican grocery store/restaurant, Juan Ramos, originally from Puebla, Mexico, said the killings pained the Mexican community in particular.

Nearly 3,000 Mexicans call Baltimore home, according to the 2000 Census, but community advocates estimate that number is much larger.


Growing presence

The region's growing Latino community hails from every corner of the Spanish-speaking world, consisting of both newcomers and longtime residents, said Nancy Alexandrou, who works at Centro de la Comunidad, an outreach center for Latinos in Southeast Baltimore.

The latest Census estimates from July 2002 had 11,511 Hispanics living in the city and 14,981 in Baltimore County, but Alexandrou thinks the population could be as large as 40,000.

While the Latino presence is evident in the Eastern Avenue area, Hispanics live throughout Baltimore County - some in small enclaves along Reisterstown Road, others throughout the suburbs, Alexandrou said.

"I think everywhere, people are trying to be supportive of this family," she said.

Others pointed to the sacrifice that immigrants make for their children, saying the only reason that the Espinoza and Quezada families came to Baltimore was to create a better life for their children.


"If you have children, all you want is for them to succeed," Kordell said at the vigil. "That's why you see all this pain and sobbing. Nothing will replace those children in these people's lives."