Unsolved murders: Heartbreaking reality in Stockton | Crime
STOCKTON, CA - As the city of Stockton prepares to end its deadliest year on record, family members of homicide victims wait for investigators to make arrests.
Families fear that with a diminished police presence in the city, their loved ones' cases may go unsolved.
"There was not enough police out here that day," Holly Ramirez said.
Ramirez's brother Tony Le was fatally shot outside his house in late September, 2011.
"I don't think they're going to ever catch them (killers)," Ramirez said. "That's how I really feel."
An unsolved, unpunished murder of a loved one has been an 11-year grief sentence for Tina Montoya.
Montoya's only daughter, Sophia Ulloa, was a 20-year-old mother returning home from last-minute shopping on Christmas eve, 2000, when she was stabbed to death as she got out of her car.
"I woke up when I heard her screaming," Montoya said. "She was in the street, holding her side, and pointing down the street screaming, 'Go get them. Go get them.'"
Montoya didn't see anyone and ran back inside the house to call 911. It was ultimately a decision she regrets, because she never got the chance to talk to her daughter again.
"I wish I had gone back to her and asked her questions," Montoya said as she choked back tears. "Ask her who did it. We wouldn't be here today; the case would be solved."
Montoya praises the work of the Stockton Police Department in her daughter's case, but without witnesses or any motive for the attack, the investigation froze.
"At first, I thought good about it, that the police were going to catch them," said Montoya. "Then, all of a sudden, I just felt, 'ya know, this is going to take awhile.'"
Montoya moved out of the home she shared with Sophia on El Monte Street shortly after her murder.
Sophia's daughter is being raised by her great aunt and is now 15 years old. Montoya continues to come to the spot where Sophia was killed and decorates a tree year-round to memorialize her daughter.
"I still act like she's here," said Montoya. "When we find Sophia's killers, I'll take down all the decorations and I'll leave this place."
A year later on Jan. 20, 2002, Theresa Sanchez said goodbye to her granddaughter, Chastity Cogo, for the last time as she walked out the door to go out that night.
Chastity was also a 20-year-old mom to a 5-year-old boy.
Chastity was last seen on her street getting into the van of Tony Ramirez, who is currently serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder in 2005.
The following day was the one-year anniversary of Chastity's mother's death. She didn't return home the next morning to visit her mother's grave with the rest of the family.
"At first I just thought she was off grieving in her own way, but four days later was my birthday and I hadn't heard from her," said Sanchez. "She didn't call all day and I just knew something was wrong."
Chastity was a missing person for three months until April 20, 2002. A fishermen on Eight Mile Road and Rio Blanco found her body on the canal bank in a duffle bag.
"They wrapped her up in a blanket and threw her away in the water like garbage," Sanchez said. "She was a human being, she was a granddaughter, a sister, a mother."
Sanchez said Chastity's son didn't understand what had happened to his mother and explaining to him that she disappeared was heartbreaking.
"He thought she went to Disneyland without him because she told him that's what they were going to do in the upcoming months," Sanchez said. "He was so heartbroken and he just didn't understand. He still didn't believe she was dead at the funeral, because we couldn't have an open casket like we did for her mother the year before."
The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department said Chastity's case went cold because people with potential information were not cooperating with investigators.
"People who may have knowledge of what happened to Chastity would not talk to us," Capt. Dave Souza said. "And the van she was seen getting into has simply vanished. It just disappeared and we've never found it to this date."
Victims of Violent Crimes
Montoya and Sanchez now seek comfort in a club that no one longs to be a member of: Victims of Violent Crimes.
The group meets monthly to discuss updates in cases, share grief and lend support to others living with a broken heart.
Montoya and Sanchez, who became friends after meeting at the club, said there will never be closure, but there can be justice.
They hope that time may be on their side now: Loyalties and friendships may have dissolved and a $50,000 reward from the governor's office may be worth more than silence in today's economy.
"A piece of your heart is ripped up," said Sanchez. "You learn to live with it, but you never forget."
"I've held on for 11 years," Montoya said. "I still mourn for my daughter. It's something you don't forget and it breaks your heart more and more."