An emotional farewell was held Wednesday for the young girl who was gunned down on the sidewalk outside her house by gang members earlier this week.
As the casket holding the body of a 7-year-old Maria Del Carmen Menchaca was lowered into the ground, the girl's mother broke down, crying in near hysterics and collapsed. Several people came to her aid to help her to her feet again.
"My daughter," Carmen Santos cried in Spanish. "I don't want to leave her alone. She's going to be scared. I don't want to leave her here."
Several people cried out in agony as they paid their final respects to the girl, including her father, Gilbert Menchaca, who had a look of disbelief and wracked emotion on his face during the entire funeral service and frequently looked down at his feet and shook his head.
Ironically, Menchaca's burial at Elysian Burial Gardens, near 4500 South and 1300 East, was just a short walk across the lawn from where just three months earlier another 7-year-old girl, Hser Ner Moo, was laid to rest after being abducted and killed in her South Salt Lake apartment complex.
Unlike Moo's funeral service, however, in which hundreds of people many whom did not even know the young girl attended, only a small group were present Wednesday to bid farewell to Menchaca.
Fewer than 100 people mostly friends and family filled only half of the small Sacred Heart Catholic Church on the corner of 200 East and 900 South. Only between 20 to 30 attended the graveside burial. But co-workers of Gilbert Menchaca said the father was grateful for all the support he received.
Menchaca worked at the downtown Olive Garden. He was at work the night he received the news his daughter had been shot.
"He had nothing to do with gangs. He loves his family. He's always talking about his family. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Tomas Chino, a friend and co-worker of Menchaca. "I couldn't imagine losing a daughter to something that stupid. It's stupidity ... If I lost my daughter, I would lose my mind."
Chino said Maria's father worked two jobs to support his family. Police, however, said there was a person inside the house who was a gang member and had an ongoing dispute with a rival gang that turned violent on Sunday.
Maria was killed in front of her Glendale home at 800 West and Fremont Avenue (1100 South) as she played outside.
A black SUV drove by and someone inside the car fired a shot in what police termed a gang-dispute directed at someone in Maria's house.
Officers had responded there earlier in the day on a threats call in which someone involved in the dispute vowed to return to exact revenge.
That same evening, Frank Benavidez, 20, was arrested for investigation of first-degree felony murder, as well as three 16-year-olds.
Police say Benavidez drove the car, while one of the teenagers inside pulled the trigger. The three teens are in custody as well. The DA's office is scheduled to begin screening charges against Benavidez Thursday.
The service was delivered in Spanish only by Father Eugenio Yarce, who sprinkled holy water and rang a bell as the casket was brought in. The service was barely-audible, however, being drowned out by the sound of children and small babies crying.
Yarce talked about peace and how Maria was alive in heaven. Near the end of the service, Gilbert Menchaca rose and thanked Yarce.
Jayci Chino, a friend of Menchaca's who attended the funeral, doesn't speak Spanish and didn't understand a lot of what was said. But she said words weren't needed to understand the tears of Maria's mother.
"I felt for the mother and father," she said. "I don't know a lot about gangs and that kind of stuff, but I don't think they mean for 7-year-olds to be shot."
Arturo Rodriquez grew up with Maria's parents in Mexico before they all moved to Utah.
"This is something that is really bad," he said of the violence in the neighborhood that took Maria's life. "People are afraid to walk outside at night. It's hard."
Some of those attending Wednesday's funeral wore white T-shirts with Maria's picture on the back and the words, "RIP, Maria Menchaca, 2000-2008."
After the church service, Maria's body was taken to the cemetery where Yarce said a prayer and blessed the burial site. . Two crosses that were on top of the casket were given to Maria's parents.Just a couple of feet away from Maria's grave was the headstone of Jorge Rafad Menchaca Pimentel who died last October at age 18. Jorge was reportedly Maria's cousin. Several people stopped, knelt before his headstone and shed more tears before saying goodbye to Maria. Jorge's headstone was surrounded by fresh flowers and a white baseball cap with the letters "LA" printed on them, and a blue bandana on top. It's unknown how the boy died.
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