Sundays were always memorable for 17-year-old Anthony Ismael Quintanilla.
That was the day his mother, Sara Alacote, loved to cook for the family. She’d start with chicharrón with sweet potatoes and bread for breakfast. Later on, it’d be ceviche with rice and chicken.
But this Sunday, the family gathered to mourn incredible loss. Saturday, a gunman barged into the family’s home, killing Alacote and her husband, Ismael Quintanilla.
Alacote, who was from Lima, Peru, was 37 years old. Quintanilla, who was from San Miguel, El Salvador, was 41.
Alacote arrived in the United States as a young woman, her son said, and moved in with her uncle in Columbia. She started working at a local McDonald’s and later met Ismael. In September 2003, their son was born, and the family eventually moved to Savage.
“It was kind of a tiny, small apartment. We didn’t like how it was, so my dad saved up, worked hard enough and bought the house he wanted,” Anthony Quintanilla said.
That was the family’s town home in Woodlawn. They moved there in 2017.
Along the way, Alacote cleaned houses and worked at Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s.
“She kept working harder and harder for me and my dad,” Quintanilla said.
Ismael Quintanilla worked in construction almost all his life, his son said. Even through an eye injury and back injury, he continued to work to support the family.
“He was strong, brave,” Anthony Quintanilla said. “He was a tough man and I look up to him.”
Ismael Quintanilla loved to fix up the family’s home, paint the walls and buy new furniture, his son said. And he loved to do karaoke on Saturday nights, inviting friends and family over to sing with him. Anthony loved to go out to eat with his father and to go to the movies.
Juana Alacote, Sara’s elder sister, said she will treasure the vacations they shared. Sara always planned where they’d go and who they’d go with, she said. She loved to bring everyone together.
She’ll remember Ismael for his hard work to build a better life for his wife and child, she said in Spanish.
“He told me: ‘Cuñada, I’m going to study. I’m going to get my diploma and I’m going to work so that Sara and Anthony want for nothing, and so that your sister doesn’t have to work, because I know she works so hard,’” Juana Alacote said.
Saturday morning around 6 a.m., Anthony Quintanilla woke to the sound of gunshots.
“I thought it was just somewhere far away,” he said.
Then he heard an explosion, which sounded like an earthquake. His neighbor’s home was on fire.
He and his parents left their rooms and headed downstairs, and that’s when they heard someone bang on their front door. Anthony figured it was the police or firefighters asking the family to evacuate. But when his mother asked who was there, Anthony saw his next-door neighbor, 56-year-old Everton Brown, bust through the door, wielding a gun.
Brown shot Alacote a few times, before she escaped from the home. Anthony ran upstairs to the family’s guest bedroom and dialed 911. He had to sit on hold for a moment, he said, and he could hear his father’s cries from the first floor, begging the gunman to spare the family.
Upstairs, he saw his dog, a Shih Tzu named Mimi, with blood on her fur. He thought she had been shot too. Mimi was lost in the chaos, Anthony said, but was found Monday under his parents’ bed.
In the bedroom, Anthony thought about jumping from the second story window to flee, but instead he watched from above as Brown exited the family’s home, and opened fire on people in the parking lot. There, he killed 24-year-old Sagar Ghimire, a recent graduate of a South Carolina university who had just moved to the Baltimore area.
Anthony fled downstairs past his father, who lay dead on the family’s couch, and out the back door. Outside, he saw pieces of his neighbor’s home, which was on fire, dangling from his family’s balcony. The explosion caved in the family’s roof, too.
“All I had was sandals, a hoodie. That’s it,” he said. “I kept going. Running and running.”
He ran from house to house until he found a neighbor who sheltered him, giving him clothes and a blanket. After police killed Brown, Anthony was taken to a local elementary school to wait for more help. He learned that his mother had been taken to University of Maryland Shock Trauma in Baltimore. He rushed there with his family.
“I kind of had hope,” he said.
Once they arrived, only one person was allowed inside. Anthony went in and received the terrible news. His mother couldn’t be saved.
Now, Anthony still thinks about the man who took his parents, a man he recognized from frequent neighborhood disturbances. The man consistently made the family uncomfortable, hurling racist insults and threats, Anthony said.
The family called the police on Brown three or four times, Anthony said. In one instance, he parked in the family’s parking area out of retaliation, because he believed they had stepped onto his yard. Really, they’d been on the sidewalk, Anthony said.
“We just felt scared. Like whenever we went to go pick up my mom from work, when we’d get back he’s just there, outside,” he said. “There was times that he threatened us. But he didn’t say he’d kill us.”
Now, Anthony can’t help but wonder how the man next door, who neighbors pointed out to authorities, was able to remain in his home and obtain a gun.
“I just don’t get it,” he said.
The family has started a GoFundMe page for funeral expenses, said Anthony Ismael Quintanilla. It can be found at gofundme.com/f/donations-for-my-cousin-parents.