All day and all night, backing up traffic for more than a mile, they flocked to the modest brick house in the Molinatown barrio, leaving bouquets and rosaries and votive candles for an idolized neighbor who had never forsaken her roots.
Tejano music's first international superstar, Selena, who police say was shot to death by the ex-president of the singer's own fan club, was mourned here Saturday as a local hero--a Grammy-winning entertainer who could often be seen mowing the grass next to the red Porsche in her front yard.
"People around here, we don't really make it that big in life," said Mark Gonzalez, 16, a sophomore at nearby West Oso High School, where the principal broke into tears while announcing Selena's slaying over the intercom. "She was an inspiration. She was cool."
As soon as word of Friday's slaying spread, the crowds began to descend on this rough-hewn neighborhood tucked into Corpus Christi's southwestern corner, a mostly working-class, Mexican American enclave dotted with gang graffiti and prickly cacti. By Saturday afternoon, the procession of cars inching down Selena's street had spanned the entire barrio, their headlights on and rear windows decorated with messages of sympathy: "Long Live Selena," declared one slowly passing coupe.
Outside her home, which stands next to two others occupied by her parents and a brother, the chain-link fence had been transformed into a shrine festooned with tokens of respect--a heart-shaped balloon, a pink Easter bunny, a page from a child's coloring book. In the middle of it all, Ramon Garcia Jr. had hung an impressively detailed pencil drawing of the 23-year-old singer, attaching a note that said he had spent two months working on the project.
"I finally finished it 3-30-95, the day before you were taken from us," he wrote. Grief-stricken fans pointed camcorders at the portrait, the silence broken only by an occasional car radio blaring one of Selena's bouncy, Spanish-language love songs.
"No matter how big she got, she always told people she was from Molina," said Delia Gonzalez, 23, whose makeup had been turned into a runny mess by the tears dripping down her cheeks. "I still feel she's always going to be here."
The events leading up to Selena's death, which triggered a bizarre nine-hour standoff between SWAT officers and the suicidal suspect, came into sharper focus during a news conference Saturday in this petroleum city of 232,000 on the Gulf of Mexico.
Selena, according to Assistant Police Chief Ken Bung, had arrived at a Days Inn motel just before noon Friday for the purpose of firing Yolanda Saldivar, 32, the manager of her San Antonio boutique and president of her fan club. Saldivar, who is expected to be arraigned on murder charges Monday, had allegedly mishandled the singer's funds, said Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla.
"I felt that she was kind of obsessed with Selena," Quintanilla told reporters outside his home Saturday. "When we presented her with all the proof that she was embezzling money, she just lost it, I guess."
Police said Saldivar confronted Selena at the door of her motel room, shooting her once in the back with a .38-caliber revolver. Selena managed to stagger to the lobby, where she remained conscious until paramedics transported her to Memorial Medical Center. She was pronounced dead at 1:05 p.m. CDT.
Saldivar then took refuge in a red GMC pickup in the Days Inn parking lot, pointing a pistol at her head and talking with police negotiators over a cellular phone, until surrendering shortly after 9:30 p.m. Police described her as lucid but distraught. "She was expressing remorse all through the incident--crying, upset, very emotional," Bung said.
At times, the entire city has appeared to be in tears. Fans have been snatching up Selena's records at a frantic pace, buying more than 1,000 tapes and compact discs from the Wal-Mart on Highway 77. Tejano radio stations, flooded with calls, have become on-air therapy sessions. Moved by the Quintanilla family's loss, one young woman told KSAB-FM: "I would even have a baby for them."
At Selena's Corpus Christi boutique, where a fanciful pink neon sign spells out her name, a single rose wrapped in Mylar had been left next to a stuffed teddy bear. Outside the Days Inn, 28-year-old Pat Abrego was aiming her video camera at two friends who had driven up with her from the border community of Brownsville, Tex. "If we do this," she said, explaining her need to document the scene of the crime, "her memory will live on."
On Saturday night, more than 1,500 mourners attended a vigil for Selena at the Bayfront Plaza and Convention Center. A public viewing of her casket there was set for today. And her funeral was expected to be held Monday in Corpus Christi's Memorial Coliseum--the same arena where she recorded her first smash album, "Selena Live."
But nowhere has the anguish of her death struck a more poignant chord than in Molinatown, known among residents here as Mo-Town, where she was a constant source of good news in a community long accustomed to disappointment.
"No one from this barrio had ever made it that big," said Mary Ester Solis, 33, a food service employee at the hospital where Selena died.