The salsa music blasting Wednesday morning from an old speaker in front of a house on the 3000 block of Lawrence Street was so loud, it drowned out the pleas of the boy who knelt before 21 candles to pray. It drowned out the whimpers of the girl quietly crying to herself in a folding chair. It even drowned out the heaving sobs of the man on the steps across the street, his head buried in his hands.
Lylliana Mendoza, 35, and her stepdaughter Aslemarie Torres, 19, were fatally shot on the Fairhill block in the first minutes of Wednesday morning, and their families had turned up the music to deafening levels as if trying to muffle the pain.
Mendoza and Torres were shot while sitting in a red pickup truck in front of the house on Lawrence Street where Mendoza lived with her husband, Torres' father, according to police and relatives. Both women were pronounced dead there at 12:19 a.m. Police released no further details Wednesday, but homicide detectives remained at the scene for at least 12 hours after the slayings attempting to retrieve surveillance footage from several houses on the block, including Mendoza's.
Meanwhile, relatives gathered under a tent in front of the house, where they crafted memorials for the women, nuzzled two Chihuahuas, and embraced. Neighbors watched from windows and doorways in bathrobes and boxers.
Torres worked at a veterinarian's office, lived nearby with her mother, and "was never in the street," according to her maternal aunt Lizza Rodriguez. She said Torres — who turned 19 last Thursday — had gone to Lawrence Street with her stepmother Wednesday to visit her father and his dog.
"She was always so happy," Rodriguez said with tears in her eyes. "She was such a good girl."
Mendoza's relatives declined to comment.
Neighborhood residents Pete Torres, 55, and his wife, Wendy, 45 — who are not related to Aslemarie Torres — said they were awakened shortly after midnight by about two dozen gunshots.
Pete Torres said he turned over to police surveillance cameras from his house that captured the two women pulling up in a red Toyota Tacoma at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. The women stayed in the truck, for reasons unknown, and at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, he said, his surveillance camera showed someone in a newer-model car driving in reverse down Leithgow Street, which runs parallel to Lawrence, then turning onto Clearfield and then Lawrence. The driver pulled his or her car next to the truck, put on the brakes, "did what he did," and drove away, Pete Torres said.
A bicyclist riding down Lawrence at the same time as the shooting could be seen in the footage ducking for cover behind cars, Torres said.
Pete and Wendy Torres both said that Mendoza's husband had been driving the truck earlier in the day and that its windows were tinted so heavily, it would have been difficult to see anyone inside. Shattered glass that remained at the scene Wednesday was tinted black.
"Whoever did the killing probably thought it was someone else," Pete Torres theorized.
The women were the third and fourth people fatally shot in a square-block radius since December. According to news reports, a 36-year-old man was slain around 6 p.m. April 19 on the 400 block of West Clearfield, less than 500 feet from Wednesday's shootings. Last Dec. 13, a 49-year-old man was killed at Clearfield and Orkney Streets, about 400 feet from Wednesday's slaying.
"It's scary," Wendy Torres said. "You're not safe anywhere."