LA CAPILLA, MEXICO — LA CAPILLA, Mexico -- The last time Adan Espinoza Canela called this dusty town was on Mother's Day, when the 17-year-old told his mother he remembered the holiday because of a television commercial and assured her that life was good for him in Baltimore.
"If he was a bad person, he would not remember Mother's Day," said his mother, Teresa Canela Chacha, as she tearfully recalled last month's telephone call.
Chacha, who raised Canela and his four siblings by herself in this poor village in the state of Veracruz, said she can't imagine that her son committed the gruesome crime he is accused of -- killing his three young cousins with a knife last month in Northwest Baltimore.
Canela's uncle, Policarpio Espinoza, 22, is also charged in the murders.
"Tell me why he would do such a horrible thing," said Chacha, 60, heaving with sobs. "I raised him. There is no way he could have done it. Never."
But Baltimore police have accused Canela of killing the children while his uncle waited in the car and then drove him from the apartment. Detectives found a knife near the scene of the crime and a bloody shirt in the Baltimore County home shared by the two men. Police say they have not uncovered a motive for the killings.
On May 27, the children's mothers found them dead in their Fallstaff apartment. Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, was decapitated. His 9-year-old cousins -- Lucero Solis Quezada and Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., brother and sister -- were nearly beheaded.
Two Mexican villages
Alexis was born in Mexico City. Lucero and Ricardo were born in Tenenexpan, a small farming village about a two-hour drive from La Capilla, near the resort city of Veracruz.
La Capilla, where Canela grew up, is a sparsely inhabited town that is so small there are no street signs to let visitors know they have arrived. The village does not appear on local maps or in phone books.
It is mostly known for a factory that made acrylic material for clothing until it closed four years ago. The empty building still looms large over the village.
Sitting in her modest home, Chacha spoke of her son's love of soccer and television. She said she has not slept since hearing what happened.
"He never smoked a cigarette or came home drunk," she said, her left hand rubbing her knee for comfort. "He always wanted to help me here. He is a very hard worker."
Chacha said her son has not called home since he was arrested. But she said that another family member keeps her up to date on his status, and that she has been told police will be giving him a lie detector test June 28.
"I think much will be resolved then," she said.
Chacha said she would not attend a burial service for the three children that is expected to be held soon in Tenenexpan, which is home to the families of the victims' mothers.
"I can't go," she said, shaking her head and declining to explain further.
Chacha said her son always got along well with children and had affection for the ones he is accused of killing. When she would talk to her son on the phone, she would sometimes hear the noise of the children in the background.
"I'd say to him, 'What are you doing?'" she said. "And he'd say, 'I'm playing with Ricardo's kids.'"
Victims Lucero and Ricardo were the children of Canela's uncle, Ricardo Espinoza, and his wife, Noemi Quezada. Alexis was the son of Noemi's niece, Andrea Espejo Quezada.
Canela had not visited his family in Mexico since he went to the United States in February last year to live with his father, Victor Espinoza. He has told immigration officials that he entered the country illegally, walking across the Arizona desert.
Since his arrest, his presence has been constant here on television and in the newspapers.
His family calls him "Adancito," an affectionate term meaning "little Adan."
"His face looks so innocent in the newspaper," said Chacha, who does not read the articles about her son because she can't read. "On the news, they say he did such bad things."
No work at home
Chacha didn't want her son to go to the United States, especially not to be with his father, who had been absent from Canela's life since he was a small child.
"I said, 'Why do you want to go there?'" she said. "If his father had helped to raise him I could understand, but his father was gone and never sent me money. Not even one peso."
Canela's cousin, Paula Espinoza Villa, 32, said Canela went to the United States to help his mother have a better life.
"Here, there is no work," she said, explaining that a farmer makes $5 a day. Most of the men work in the fields.
Villa said it was "impossible" that Canela could have killed the children because they are part of his family. "He doesn't have it in him to kill someone," Villa said.
Villa said the same thing of her cousin, Policarpio Espinoza. His mother, Guadalupe Espinoza, lives in a nearby town but has not been told by relatives of the allegations against her son.
Canela worked in the town creamery that made cheese until it closed last year. He worked there for two years after he dropped out of school at age 14. He earned one day off every eight days, taking home $40 a week, his mother said.
Money for a house
"All he wanted to do was give me money so I could build a bigger house," Chacha said. Canela was raised in a home that has tree limbs as corner posts, slats of wood pulled together with wire for the body, and bottle caps fashioned as washers to keep nails in place.
Canela's mother and father met when he was 19 and she was 38. She was divorced with three children. The two did not marry, but they lived together for seven years and had five children, the oldest being Adan.
Shortly after the youngest child was born, Victor Espinoza left the family, went to the United States and eventually settled in Baltimore.
Chacha said she worked washing and ironing clothes to earn enough money to raise her children without Victor's help. "I suffered to raise them," she said. "I taught them to work hard."
But now, she worries whether her son is getting enough food in the Baltimore jail. Her biggest fear is that she will not see him again, perhaps that he will remain in prison, or worse.
"I always say I hope God takes me before my kids," she said, still rubbing her left knee. "I just love them all so much."