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No Way to Forget : Cathy Torrez’s Violent Death Still Haunts Family

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the six months since 20-year-old college student Cathy Torrez was found slain, her family and community have not been able to forget the violence that touched them.

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“It’s changed every one of us in different ways. It’s affected us not only because of the fact that we realize that she was taken from us,” said Torrez’s mother, Mary Bennett. “Just the way it happened, we can’t understand that. It was senseless.”

The killer who stabbed Torrez repeatedly, stuffed her body into the trunk of her 1990 Toyota and left it parked in the Placentia Linda Community Hospital parking lot has not been found, despite a reward of nearly $36,000.

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Police say they have few new leads but are following up on every tip. They are waiting for the results of some soil tests conducted by a Unocal chemist who volunteered his services, examining the sole of the one shoe Torrez had left when her body was found six months ago today, hoping it will reveal chemical traces that will point to a murder scene.

The community that renamed a children’s learning center in Torrez’s memory keeps hoping for an answer.

“I believe somebody in our community has some vital information,” Bennett said. “I believe that one day it will be solved, for Cathy and for us. We’re in a limbo waiting.”

Some of Torrez’s friends from Cal State Fullerton last week brought a Hemet psychic to the area near where her body was found in search of vibrations that might reveal more, but to no avail.

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Placentia resident Mike Buelna put out flyers seeking information from residents of Torrez’s neighborhood, on the theory that not all of the rumors and speculation on the street--potential leads--are reaching police. He has offered to act as a go-between for anyone who wants to come forward with information on the killing.

Hundreds of little ribbon-strung white clay hearts dangling from rearview mirrors and the necks of Torrez’s friends have become a symbol of a community waiting for answers many still believe are hidden in their midst.

“We’ve got to keep it going. There’s an answer and it has to be found. There’s a lot of people in Placentia and somebody must have seen something,” said Tina Miranda, who began making the “hearts of innocence” for mourners at Torrez’s rosary and funeral. Miranda swapped many of the hearts for donations at the Placentia Street Fair earlier this month, raising $902.

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“The little thank-you notes we put on them said, ‘Now, when you, too, see a white heart, you will think of our friend Cathy Torrez,’ ” she said.

Miranda and others like her help Torrez’s family keep going.

“People have approached us and said, ‘Oh, you must be strong.’ We’re not strong. But outside we put ourselves to look like we are strong. Inside, we are not strong,” Bennett said. “I will not stop until I find my daughter’s killer. . . . No one has a right to take anyone else’s life. Cathy did not deserve to go that way. She worked hard. She had dreams and she worked for them all her life. Somebody, just because they wanted to or for whatever reason, took it all away from her. And it’s not fair.”

Police still won’t say how many times Torrez was stabbed, only that the attacker was “seriously disturbed.” There was no evidence of sexual assault. There were no fingerprints, no witnesses.

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“What we had basically when the body was discovered on the 19th (of February) is what we still have,” Placentia police spokeswoman Corinne Loomis said. “There is no magic in what we do.”

Torrez fought her attacker ferociously and was outside the car, walking in mud, for at least a short time before she was killed, Loomis said. The inside of the car was in disarray and some parts were broken, indicating a violent struggle had taken place.

The most promising clue right now is the one, mud-caked shoe Torrez was still wearing when her body was found.

“It’s one of the bigger things, if not the biggest thing we have pending right now, but we don’t know where it will take us,” Loomis said. “Even if you’re standing there in the middle of a murder scene, now you know where it happened, but you still aren’t any closer to who did it.”

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That would take finding physical evidence such as Torrez’s belongings, a murder weapon or something else that might lead them to the killer, Loomis said.

Torrez called her mother Feb. 12 from the Sav-On drug store where she worked, giving no indication that anything was amiss. She left work around 8 p.m., drove out of the parking lot and disappeared. Her body was found a week later.

“To me, in my heart, I believe Cathy died that Saturday night,” Bennett said.

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Police believe Torrez met with foul play somewhere in the mile between her job and home but was killed somewhere else.

Buelna, an anti-gang activist who never knew Torrez, has a “gut feeling” her killer is still in Placentia and that gangs were not involved.

“There were some rumors of that kind that went around,” he said. “But I don’t believe that was the case. Things that have been said, things that I’ve read, even talking to gang members, they don’t condone that” type of killing.

Buelna distributed flyers in the La Jolla and Atwood neighborhoods, asking residents to pass all leads, even rumors, along to police. But he believes fear is keeping the community quiet, he said.

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“I think it’s fear of reprisal,” Buelna said. “But I find it hard to understand that. What difference does it make? How would that individual (the killer) know what was said anyway?”


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