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Murder In Ecuador

When Gloria Lopez expected her beautiful daughter back from a summer in Ecuador a year and a half ago, she never thought in her wildest nightmares that she would bring her home in an urn.

Her only child, 25-year-old Gloria Daniela Lopez, an American-born citizen, was horrifically murdered on September 9th, 2009, the night before she was to return home.  She had asked her mother if she could stay longer in the volunteer job she loved, working with poor children.  Her mother advised her to come home first and finish the two semesters she had left at Cal State Los Angeles where she was majoring in sociology. What happened instead is heartbreaking.

Gloria Daniela's body was found two-and-a-half miles from the house where she was staying in the city of Ambato.  She was stabbed multiple times in the chest and back, and part of her throat was slit.  Those who knew her said she was quiet and sweet, a good student who had talked of going on to UCLA for a graduate degree. A former boss told the LA Weekly she was also street-smart and stayed away from guys that looked like trouble.  As far as anyone knew she had no history of drugs or nefarious connections.

Gloria Daniela Lopez, Murdered in EquadorShe was the apple of her parents’ eyes, both of whom have lived here over a quarter century and are hard-working American citizens. Marcos Lopez is a parking attendant at the Staples Center. In her native Ecuador, the elder Gloria was an English teacher.  Here she is an assistant in a prominent Beverly Hills beauty salon.  She was always bright, quick with a quip and very good-hearted.   Since the loss of her daughter, I saw her smile weakly for the first time a couple months ago.

The case got a lot of heartfelt publicity when it first happened, but since then public attention has waned. Trying to find her daughter’s murderer has been an excruciating series of stalemates.   According to Gloria, the Ecuadorian authorities told her she must pay several thousand dollars to have forensic tests conducted, and she claims you can’t get the police to act unless you pay them.  Gloria was forced to cremate her daughter’s body in Ecuador because she couldn’t afford to transport it to the U.S.  She was able to scrape together some money for a lawyer there, and hasn’t heard from him since.  A police official from another town offered to help her, but when she did not come up with funds, he disappeared. Apparently there have been other, similar murders in Ecuador, and these have met with some public outcry.  But still justice has not been done.

The case has also become complicated and hampered by the lack of modern crime-fighting techniques in Ecuador and by what Gloria characterizes as careless handling or disappearance of evidence.    She has received help contacting officials in Ecuador and at the American embassy from Senator Barbara Boxer, Congressman Howard Berman and others. The Consul-General of the Embassy, Jennifer Savage, says it wants to keep the case alive and in the public view.   

As I write these words, I have a sickening feeling.  Despite the fact that it has been a year and a half, it’s not unlike the stupefied reaction I had when I first heard of this atrocious act.   Why would anyone kill such a beautiful young woman?  And how will Gloria survive? She and I used to compare the various trials and joys of raising a daughter, and now I am loathe to ever discuss my children knowing that it can only bring her pain.

It’s always said that losing a child is the most horrible thing that can happen to a parent.    The howl of grief that springs forward in each of us at the thought can hardly be compared to what must dwell in the heart of one who experiences this.  My own parents lost their first child. Their ordeal was excruciating, but they were lucky to be young enough to have more.  Gloria and her husband will never have that chance.  Psychologists who have dealt with such tragedy say that the pain does ease in time, especially if the person is able to channel the loss into some constructive endeavor.  Gloria has thought of setting up a foundation in her daughter’s name, or perhaps a scholarship.  But her means are meager, so now she devotes herself to finding the murderer or murderers.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Gloria wrote:  “I can only hope that people understand my desire to seek out the truth as to exactly why my baby was taken from me….  From here on forward, this shall be my purpose in life.”

Gloria is now quite certain who the killer is.  In my next blog I shall talk about the frustrating investigation. 

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