Luz Sanchez does not want her grandchildren to see her cry, so she waits until they are asleep and slips out onto her back porch.
In the darkness, she says, she pretends her daughter Grisel is still alive. She imagines she is holding her the way she did when Grisel was a baby, the daughter she asked God for, her “Chichi.” Luz rocks her, she says, swaying with the memory. She can almost feel the heat of her daughter’s skin.
“Chichi,” she calls, “Why don’t you come back to me?”
It was a year ago this week that Grisel Sanchez, 31, a mother of three, was shot to death as she walked through Puddingstone Park in Dorchester on her way to the store, just blocks from her home. It was 10:30 p.m., and she had just stepped out to buy cigarettes with her friends. Officials have said she was caught in the crossfire of someone else’s gunfight.
But who pulled the trigger has remained a mystery. Sanchez’s July 28, 2015, killing is unsolved. Police say the investigation is active and are asking anyone with information to come forward.
Sanchez’s family has been left to wonder: Who among their neighbors saw something and stayed silent? More frightening: Does the killer still walk their streets?
“I’m here, but I’m not here,” said Sanchez’s sister, Angelica Rivera, 37, her voice breaking in grief. “I will not stop until I find who did this to my sister. I just want the person to tell me why.”
It is the “why” that haunts Sanchez’s family. From the moment Luz Sanchez realized she was pregnant with Grisel, her daughter’s life seemed to her a miracle and a blessing. Luz had just lost her 15-month-old daughter, Jennifer. She asked God to give her another girl, and when Grisel was born, Luz set about taking picture after picture: Grisel nestled in blankets, Grisel in her crib, Grisel in a hat. Grisel always smiling. Luz had just one photograph of Jennifer, and she was determined not to make the same mistake.
Grisel Sanchez, who has an older and younger sister, grew into a spunky and goofy woman who would never take “no” for an answer, who was at once demanding and generous and boisterous and sweet. Her mother could always hear her coming down the street before she could see her: Grisel loved to belt out the Ed Sheeran song “Thinking Out Loud,” despite her inability to carry a tune, and when she got close to her mother’s open window, she would holler, “Mami, give me a Pepsi!”
Grisel Sanchez doted on her three children, two boys now aged 14 and 12, and a 14-year-old daughter who shares her brown eyes and affinity for selfies. She cared full-time for her 86-year-old grandmother, who suffers from dementia, taking her to cookouts and the park, or to Castle Island to walk along the water.
Her family has never told her grandmother about the killing. The trauma would be too much, they said her doctors advised them, and she would never remember it: Telling her would condemn her to learning again and again that her granddaughter had been shot to death.
Instead, they deflect: Grisel just stepped away, they tell her grandmother. But her grandmother believes she sees Grisel everywhere. She calls everyone “Chichi,” her family says. “You just missed it,” she said once to Yesenia Berrios, 29, Grisel Sanchez’s cousin. “I was just having coffee with Chichi.”
It is a painful fiction, but Grisel Sanchez’s absence from her family’s lives is almost a presence of its own.
Luz Sanchez is haunted by nightmares of her daughter’s death. In some dreams, she said, the police catch the killer, and she pummels him and asks him, “Why?” In others, she walks through Puddingstone Park and finds her daughter lying there. Grisel calls to her: “Mami, I’m cold, hold me.”
Grisel Sanchez’s children have struggled since her death. Her oldest son doesn’t like to talk about his mother; her daughter cries often. Her younger son panics if his grandmother is out of his sight and insists on going with her for every errand. He can’t bear for anyone to say: “I’ll be back” because those were the last words his mother spoke to him.
The family is planning a memorial Thursday in Puddingstone Park on the one-year anniversary of her death. They will release balloons into the sky, light candles, and throw a cookout that Sanchez would have loved.
But then they will go back to waiting for answers, and praying that anyone who saw anything that night — no matter how small — can find the courage to speak.
“Come forward; it’s not too late,” begged her younger sister, Marlene Mena, 30.
“We don’t need to know your name,” said Rivera, her older sister. “We just want closure.”
“To me, she’s still here,” Luz Sanchez said. “Until I see the face of the person who took her from me.”
Anyone with information can call homicide detectives at 617-343-4470 or can leave an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-494-TIPS. Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.