PHARR — Mariachi music resonated throughout the corridors of the Jose “Pepe” Salinas Memorial Recreation Center as families and friends gathered to remember those who were ripped from their lives in heinous crimes.
The Rio Grande Valley Families & Friends of Murdered Children, a nonprofit organization, celebrated its 10th annual National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims on Sunday with live music and food.
Attendees filled 25 tables throughout the venue that were decorated with pictures, memorabilia, flowers and candles.
Martha Flores Rangel, a 55-year-old mother, was among the attendees. Her daughter Jolissa “Coco” Socorro Rangel was shot and killed in 2013 just days before her birthday.
Rangel said she’s made it her mission in life to find justice not only for her daughter, but all the victims whose cases have gone cold.
“I advocate for Jolissa and not only the local murder victims, but also nationwide,” Rangel said. “I turned my tragedy into a positive to help others that are going through what we’ve been through in our journey.”
Rangel is the self-proclaimed right hand of Robert Garcia, the CEO and president who founded the Rio Grande Valley chapter of the organization in 2011 after the death of his brother Rogelio “Roger” Garcia.
Rangel travels nationwide to various states, including Minnesota, California and Nevada, to advocate for murder victims and their families as they seek justice, and she has also spoken in Washington.
On Sunday she spoke about the side effects that families experience after violently losing a loved one, including medical and financial hardships, and the difficulty of processing grief.
“This is a cut that’s never going to heal,” Rangel said. “I call it a grief like no other. And people ask ‘why do you call it that?’ and it’s because we get the call. It’s like they came and they just snatched it.”
Rangel said she had spoken to Jolissa just a few hours before she received the dreaded call.
She waited outside her daughter’s apartment complex for hours in complete shock until the coroner carried Jolissa away in a bodybag.
Alejandrina Winfree’s 21-year-old daughter, Alexandra JD Winfree, was also killed. She was fatally shot in 2018, when she was attending Del Mar Community College in Corpus Christi.
Winfree’s case is not a cold one. The suspect was apprehended soon after the shooting.
“She was very smart, very independent,” Winfree said about her daughter, who was a former powerlifting state champ at Sharyland Pioneer High School. “She always wanted to do it her way, but in a smart way.”
Winfree said her daughter would come to her whenever she sensed trouble, but was still innocent in that regard.
“They don’t think of malice at that age — 21 years old, her whole life ahead of her,” Winfree said. “She had many dreams and she loved everybody. She loved children. She loved to be in love.”
Alexandra’s table held a placard with a quote that she had displayed on one of her school binders. It read, “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”
Winfree says the first year of her daughter’s death was filled with denial.
Now, she waits for the trial of her daughter’s alleged killer.
As for Rangel, she’ll be speaking out and advocating for more families in Atlanta, Georgia later this year.