Martinez says Aguirre-Alonso maintained it was too dark that night to definitively say who shot Chevere. “It was out,” says Martinez, pointing to the streetlight. “She couldn’t have seen who did it from her window.”
Martinez says that in the days before she was killed, Aguirre-Alonso was scared because everyone in the neighborhood knew the police were trying to get her to talk. “I don’t know why they didn’t protect her,” she fumes.
A middle-aged woman with a cane walks slowly down Mutter Street toward the corner, clutching a rosary and a small, battered prayerbook. It’s “Miss Carmen”—Martinez says she always leads the prayers on the block, in good times and bad.
TV news crews move in. A man with a beret and ponytail begins barking at the cameramen and other photographers on hand, including me. “No photos, no faces!” he shouts. The news crews oblige, backing away for the time being.
“There’s been enough press here,” he says loudly, scowling, to nobody in particular. “We don’t need any more killings.”
“Don’t worry, he’s just so upset. He loved Reyna,” Martinez whispers, explaining that the man, who lives next door to the bodega, looked after Aguirre-Alonso like a father.
Beneath the setting sun, the vigil begins. Miss Carmen leads some two-dozen mourners in a recitation of the rosary in Spanish. Martinez, sitting on the ponytailed man’s stoop, begins to sob; the man hugs her tightly.
After 20 minutes, the service is over. The cops pick up the barricades and leave. The news crews move back in. Martinez stands in front of the shrine, cameras pointed at her back, as local reporters ask her questions about the shooting. As the block darkens and the air grows cold, someone brings out a pot full of hot chocolate. The little girl who was helping collect money from passing cars hands me a small Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. DeJesus walks over and sets the cardboard box stuffed with bills in my palm—it’s almost as heavy as a brick. “We’re on our way,” she smiles.
Martinez plops back down on the stoop. She says she’s hardly slept since Monday night’s shooting. She’s worried about more violence. She’s scared for her 15-year-old son, who’s enrolled in a nearby military academy, and whether he’ll fall in with the drug dealers on the block. And still, Martinez—a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic who says she’s been clean for three years—has mixed feelings about the kids hustling dope on the corner. She says she sees them outside at all hours, in the cold, eating fast food, so sometimes she brings them hot meals.
“They’re people, they’re not dogs,” she says. “They live around here, I’ve known some of them since they were babies. There’s no jobs, they can’t get any work and this is quick money. It’s hard. I try to talk to them, I tell them to stay in school, to try to get a job, because this won’t last and you’ll end up dead or locked up. I try, but what can I do?”
Martinez says she once had love for 22-year-old Jorge “J-Rock” Aldea—a well-known area dealer who is suspected of killing Chevere. Many on the block believe he killed Aguirre-Alonso, too. Police recently issued an arrest warrant for Aldea in the Chevere case, and are still looking for him. “He swore to me on his daughter’s life he didn’t shoot Omar,” says Martinez. She doesn’t know what to believe. “I don’t know if he’s responsible for [murdering Aguirre-Alonso], but anytime a life is taken, justice should be done. They need to find him and find out if he did it.”
She’s not happy when the cops come around, looking to make a bust. She says they’re nasty to her, that they accuse residents on the block of protecting the dealers. She’s angry they don’t also go after the steady stream of customers coming to the block to score. Professional-looking people, college students, mostly white and male, often in nice cars. She says she’s seen firefighters stop their firetrucks at the corner and hop out to buy drugs; she’s seen drivers of SEPTA buses do the same. “If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be any drug dealers over here, you wouldn’t have any violence,” she says.
I ask her if she wants to move away from the block. She starts to cry again. “Yes, I’d like to, but I don’t have the money. This is my home. This is my son’s home. I have to live here right now.”
Dabbing her eyes with a tissue, Martinez stands up, gives me a hug and heads across the street to her house. It’s dark now. The block is quiet. Empty. At the corner, the prayer candles flicker.
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4