It happened while senior Braulio Salas was at a party, lost in the beat of the loud salsa music. Salas felt something was wrong, so he left. When he got home, his fears were confirmed - Salas's cousin and close friend, 25-year-old Sintia Mesa, was missing.
That was Friday, Jan. 26. Three days later, Salas's cousin was found dead in the trunk of her car in Baltimore. Her disappearance and murder have created a flurry of media attention - the night she was found dead, camera crews swarmed outside her Prince George's County home as relatives grieved inside - but to Salas, junior Carlos Mesa and others in the Blair community, she was much more than a face on TV. These two students recall the initial days spent searching and the subsequent weeks spent mourning for the cousin they loved and admired so much.
A nightmare come true
When Salas first heard the news from his sister, he thought she was joking. His cousin had never showed up for a meeting at her work earlier that day. It wasn't like Sintia to miss an appointment, but he was sure there had to be some sort of explanation. Carlos Mesa assumed at first that his cousin had simply gone out and forgotten to tell someone where she was going.
When Salas realized his sister was serious, he felt compelled to do something to help Sintia. Full of nervous energy, he considered driving to Baltimore to put up missing-person posters, but realized that, late at night, the idea was unrealistic.
Then he remembered an episode of "20/20" where a bulletin posted on MySpace about a missing person had rapidly circulated, eventually leading to the safe recovery of the victim. With nothing to lose, Salas posted his own plea for help on his MySpace profile and those of his 346 online friends, figuring that if his friends each told their friends, he might be able to find his cousin.
For the next few days, Salas barely slept and rarely left the computer, worrying about his cousin constantly and checking his MySpace for news over and over again. By that Sunday night, he had posted her information on so many MySpace pages that he could recite her license plate number from memory.
Three days later, he hurried home to check his MySpace yet again. When the phone rang, his heart sank. It was his godmother, who told his sister that Sintia had been found dead.
Carlos Mesa had been checking local news web sites all day for developments in his cousin's case, only to stumble upon the grave news.
That night, approximately 150 family members met at Sintia Mesa's home to grieve.
Sintia Mesa, says Salas, would have wanted to see her family pulling together during that difficult time, since she was always there for her relatives. Even from a county away, Mesa had a profound effect on her cousins. "There were very few people in my life that had an impact on my life the way she did," says Salas. "And it's not just something we just say now that she's gone."
She was a best friend to his sister, like a daughter to his mother and a member of the same church, Our Lady of Sorrows in Takoma Park. At times, Carlos Mesa says, she was like a "neighborhood grandmother." She would go shopping with his younger cousins for school clothes, play catch with them and come to their baseball games, and he would occasionally tag along.
Both cousins call Sintia "a saint." She was constantly fundraising for a variety of local charities, including Children's Hospital. She also always put her loved ones first, Salas says. Even as Mesa devoted a tremendous number of hours to studying for her exams during her senior year at Morgan State, she still made a point of calling Salas's mom often to check in with the family, Salas says.
More than anything, Salas and Carlos Mesa remember Sintia's smile. She was the kind of person who never got angry, they say - instead, she was always smiling and laughing.
The night his cousin was found dead, Salas couldn't sleep. By 4:30 a.m., he had so many thoughts running through his head that he felt compelled to write them down. The words rushing through his head quickly fell into place on paper, and writing allowed him to focus on something other than his grief, even if only for the moment.
He generally writes poems only for his own eyes, but this poem was different - he wanted to write a tribute to his cousin, something that would say how much her life had meant to him. He posted the poem on his MySpace profile for his friends to read, along with Sintia Mesa's graduation photo and a picture of a dove holding an olive branch.
Salas also found comfort in his friends from school, who came to the funeral to support him. He was surprised and touched to receive calls from his friends, who had never met his cousin, asking for directions to her funeral. Although he told them that they didn't have to go, many came anyway. "It's good to know you have people who are there for you," he says. "That's what helped me the most. It's not the good times, it's the bad times when you find out who's really there for you. I wasn't expecting anybody to call."
The funeral was a true celebration of Sintia's life, he says, and the hundreds of people who attended the service were a testament to just how many people she had touched. "All the seats were filled and people had to stand up in the back," Salas says.
Even with all of the support he has received from family and friends since Sintia's death, Carlos Mesa says the pain of the loss is still fresh in his mind. "I try not to think about it because it just gets me very angry," he says. "I want to know who would kill such an amazing person and why."
An Angel Not Fit For This World
By Braulio Salas
Today I am strong, as strong as a mountain
As the waves of tears crashed on my shoulders I ignored the pain
And as the raindrops of hope run down the drains of my soul to the pit of my stomach…(exhale)
Today I am S-T-R-O-N-G strong,
Because the memory of you tells me to be
You were always strong for our family
Today I am strong, because I still wait for you
Telling myself over and over that this can't be true
Today I am strong, but tonight I am weak
Because men don't cry, but they do weep
Today I am strong; so I can teach others like you taught me
All we have is love…because without that we are nothing
We all loved and lost and this is why it hurts
Today I am strong, and tonight I pray…
PRAY so that we may meet again
Cause we are all mountains made of sand that wash away eventually
So till the day that we are both at sea,
Protect your family
You're our ANGEL now
I love you, "Sinti"
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