Excerpt from a 911 call made to the Merced Police Department, Dec. 4, 1999: "There's somebody at my house that won't leave and he has a gun. He's standing outside and he's trying to get back in. He's breaking the window right now ... His name is Lucio Rivera ... He's trying to open the door. Oh my God. He's in my room.
He's coming in. He's coming in. Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Stop! Lucio, stop! ... Oh my God. He just shot it. He just shot the gun ... (screams, then silence) ... He shot her! He shot her! Oh my God! He shot her!"
Eight years after Elida Rodriguez's ex-husband dragged her from the closet where she hid and shot her in the neck, they still feel the pain at A Woman's Place.
In 1999, Elida and her two-month old daughter sought refuge at a shelter run by the nonprofit, which provides an array of services for victims of domestic violence across Merced County. Though Elida stayed only a few weeks, those who worked with her say they watched her turn from a battered victim into an independent single mother.
The transformation proved to be her fatal mistake.
A month after Elida left A Womans Place, the 23-year-old was dead. Her ex-husband, Lucio Rivera, discovered where she was living. On an early December evening in 1999, enraged by her show of grit and strength, he broke into her apartment through an unlocked window. He found Elida crouched in a bedroom closet, pulled her out by her shirt and shot her at close range with a .22-caliber handgun.
Hold your baby for the last time, Rivera told Elida, her roommate later testified.
Eight years after her murder, Elida remains a nonprofits call to arms.
AN ICON WITH ONE NAME
She is widely known to the staff at A Womans Place by just her first name, even to those who joined the organization long after Elidas death. Her photo has appeared on the organizations brochures. Its Westside shelter is dedicated to her memory. Her case is cited during most new-hire trainings and her murder revised the way A Womans Place evaluates risk to victims.
"Elida changed the way we do business," said Diana Almanza, executive director of A Womans Place. She left us with some very important lessons.
Along with a photo of Elida, Almanza keeps in her office a copy of the 911 tape from the night Elida died. The tape holds the frantic screams of Elidas then-roommate, Victoria Beltran. It is played whenever Almanza wants to impress upon someone -- a funder, a newspaper reporter, or a new staff member -- the urgency of the nonprofits work.
Almanza can recall many news reports about women in this community who have died because of domestic violence. In fact, about 60 percent of female murder victims are killed by their husbands or male partners, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
But Elida is one of only two clients that A Womans Place has lost at the hands of an abuser since Almanza started at the organization in 1991. And her death hit close to its heart. "We all remember Elida, said Susie Bubenchik, public relations director of A Womans Place. "Even the staff who never met her.
A SISTERS MEMORIES
To Lidia Rodriguez, Elida isn't a poster child. She is a sister. She loved to draw, and she had a really good voice so she was always singing, said Rodriguez, 28, who works as an aide at Farmdale Elementary School in Merced. And she loved her baby. She was so excited about buying her clothes and watching her grow up.
Elida was born in Hollister in 1976 to immigrant parents who came to the United States from Mexico in search of a better life.
She was the oldest of three children. Rodriguez recalls her big sister as a responsible child, always more concerned about the rest of the family than about herself. She always helped me with my math, said Rodriguez. She would stay there with me, showing me until I got it. She never got frustrated.