Claudia Sales spent Mother's Day teetering between grief and joy. On the same day that she welcomed her first child into the world, she learned that her husband and her tiny son's father was dead.
Carlos Santay, 19, was stabbed Saturday evening at a Catonsville gas station. He went to the Carroll Fuel station to gas up the family's car before taking his wife, who was in the early stages of labor, to Howard County General Hospital.
She stayed behind at their rented house in Baltimore County, about a block from the gas station, and waited. As the minutes ticked by, she and her husband's cousin heard sirens.
After an hour went by and her husband did not return, the cousin called 911 and an ambulance whisked the expectant mother off to the hospital.
Santay never made it to his wife's bedside.
Baltimore County police say he was stabbed multiple times during a botched robbery attempt while he was paying at the gas station in the 5200 block of Baltimore National Pike. He was pronounced dead at Maryland Shock Trauma Center about 6 p.m. Saturday.
Last night, police said they had launched "an intensive homicide investigation" in hopes of finding Santay's killer, said Sgt. Peter Grippi. They had only a sketchy description of his assailant.
At the Howard County hospital, even as she was in labor with their first child, Sales worried about her husband's safety.
Sales, 23, knew that he had been injured - the cousin went to the gas station and spoke to police - but was spared news of his death until after she had safely delivered her son about 3:30 a.m. yesterday.
"I can't explain how I'm feeling now," Sales said last night from her hospital room, a friend translating her tearful Spanish into English. "I'm without words."
But stealing a peek at her tiny baby, a dark-haired boy she named Carlos David Santay-Sales, the young mother seemed to muster resolve.
"As I see the baby, I do feel that I have a reason to go forth," she said. "He makes me feel secure and gives me confidence to go on."
The couple met and married in their native Guatemala and moved to the Baltimore area about a year ago. She works in housekeeping at a La Quinta Hotel in Jessup and he worked as a groundskeeper at another nearby hotel. They have some family in the United States, but most of their extended family remains in Central America.
Friends said that the two were hopelessly in love.
"They were really inseparable," said Bridgette Sloan, the general manager of the La Quinta Hotel. "He would come and pick her up after work every day. They both had sparkles in their eyes."
Sales recalled her husband as a good provider and a man who looked forward to being a father.
"We shared ups and downs, good and bad," Sales said of her husband. "Our most joyous part was we were getting ready to have our family."
During her labor, Sales tried to focus on her baby despite the fact that Santay was not there.
"She knew something was wrong but didn't know what it was," said Bertha Anderson, a friend who stayed with Sales at the hospital until shortly before her son was born. "We didn't tell her. We didn't want to jeopardize the baby."
It wasn't until little Carlos arrived - at a healthy 6 pounds, 4 ounces - that another friend, Brenda Cardenas, broke the terrible news.
The new mother is now clinging to a small circle of family and friends, including her boss and housekeeping colleagues, who are trying to help her forge a new life for herself and her baby.
"She was so excited, and so was her husband, about the baby's arrival," said Sloan, who spent time with Sales and her son at the hospital yesterday. "I think they were just so much in love."
Sloan said that the young widow will stay with a friend for a while because she doesn't want to return to the home she shared with her husband; that would be too painful. Friends are also trying to set up a trust fund for the baby.
"It was just heart-wrenching," said Sloan of her visit with the mother and her baby. "She would look over at her baby and stop sobbing and then look up and say 'Why? Why did this happen?'"
But even as she struggled to comprehend her new reality, there was reason to hope.
"I do see a lot of my husband in the baby, even though he's just a day old," Sales said.