EDINBURG — Car horns blared Saturday morning, resonating with the marchers who made their way down Cano Street here as waves were exchanged and smiles were shared, but the memory of domestic violence victims weighed heavy on their hearts. That heaviness emboldened their efforts and reminded them why the attention they received this crisp autumn morning was invaluable.
Dozens were in attendance on the grounds of the Hidalgo County Annex Building parking lot for the Brides’ March, the second annual event organized by the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office together with the Hidalgo County Family Violence Task Force.
From the parking lot, participants dressed in wedding gowns marched to the Edinburg City Hall courtyard to raise awareness about domestic violence. Many held signs with some reading, “Peace begins at home,” “Don’t kill your loved one,” and “Love shouldn’t hurt.”
Wedding dresses were worn in memory of Gladys Ricart, a New Jersey woman who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1999 on the day she was going to marry her fiancé.
Among the event’s attendees was Edna Lopez, a member of the Rio Grande Valley Empowerment Zone, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence and other crises. She attended the event to support her very first client, Amabeli Tellez, who said she lost her sister to domestic violence.
Lopez and Tellez stood in their white gowns and purple veils, the color representing National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with signs that urged a stop to domestic violence. On one sign they had photos of Tellez’s sister, Adaly Tellez Johnson, who died five years ago to the day, on Oct. 1, 2017.
“We’re here to support,” Lopez said as she turned to look at the crowd of participants.
Martha Rangel, a member of the Rio Grande Valley Families and Friends of Murdered Children, stood among the crowd wearing an orange shirt that displayed an image of her daughter Jolissa, who although was not a victim of domestic violence was murdered on Oct. 25, 2013.
“Murder is murder,” Rangel said, adding that her work moved her to lend her support to the cause. “In our organization, Rio Grande Valley Families and Friends of Murdered Children, we have victims of domestic violence so we’re here to support.”
Justice Alert Technology President and CEO Juan Cano was also present at the Brides’ March. His company created the Victim Initiated Notification software, an app which acts as a resource that assists law enforcement and victims.
According to Cano, he observed an increase in domestic violence cases during the shelter-in-place period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can learn more about VIN at the Justice Alert Technology website.
District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said his and other agencies are helping build a system of support for victims and their families, and hopes that events like Saturday’s become a beacon.
“We are here to tell the public that there is people who are listening, there’s people who care. Besides law enforcement, there are other agencies in our office that want to tell the public — we are here for you,” he said, adding that events like the Brides’ March are one of many community efforts that raise awareness. “One life that is taken because of domestic violence is too much so … we are trying to do everything we can to prevent that.”
With his eyebrows arching upward, Rodriguez displayed a look of sincerity as he explained how each case “hurts.”
“Any case that we prosecute, it hurts because it is somebody from our community. It’s somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother, so we want to try to stop that,” he said.
To report domestic violence, you can call the hotline, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week — in English and Spanish, and in more than 200 other interpretations — at (800) 799-7233.
The Rio Grande Valley is no stranger to the worst-case scenario when it comes to domestic violence.
In 2022 alone there have been three cases that ended in deaths.
In early September, the body of 28-year-old Maritza Idette Zamora, of Mission, was found in an apartment in Edinburg.
Rogelio Ramirez Cortez, 61, was charged with first-degree murder after police said he implicated himself in her death. Police said he also admitted to them that the murder was committed by his son, Robert Pena, who was Zamora’s boyfriend.
When police identified and located both suspects, they detained Rogelio but Robert “barricaded himself” in their apartment and was later found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an Edinburg city spokesperson said at the time.
Rogelio is currently being held on a $1 million bond.
On March 19, the body of 24-year-old Erick Sanchez was found in rural Edinburg after his girlfriend struck him with her car.
Briana Lisset Soria, 21, of Donna told investigators that she “intentionally hit” Sanchez with her car because she suspected he was cheating on her, police said.
She was released on a $50,000 bond in June.
On March 17, police found the body of 49-year-old Maria Garza with lacerations on her body.
Ismael Medrano, Garza’s husband, had called police and claimed he had murdered his wife. Authorities found the 51-year-old alive, with lacerations on his arms and neck, lying on the floor next to his wife and still holding a knife in his hand.
Their son later told police that prior to his mother’s death, he and Medrano had received a photo from an unknown number that showed Garza hugging another man. When Medrano asked Garza about the photo she said it had been edited.
Medrano remains in jail on a $1 million bond.
One of the more widely known cases occurred in 2020.
In August of that year, the body of 37-year-old Melissa Banda, a McAllen resident, was found at the end of a dead-end road north of Donna with lacerations on her neck.
Forty-year-old Richard Ford, Banda’s ex-husband, was charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in the death of his ex-wife.
Police who were searching for Banda found her body by using GPS coordinates from a car they say Ford had rented.
Ford, who police say had previously violated a protective order Banda filed against him, was later apprehended on South Padre Island’s beach access no. 5.
He remains in jail on a $4.5 million bond.
Monitor staff writer Mark Reagan contributed to this story.
To see more, view Monitor photojournalist Joel Martinez’s full photo gallery here: