Huddled against a chilly late afternoon, friends and relatives of Tensia Martinez Richard shielded their candles from the wind Saturday at a quiet vigil in her memory.
The candles were purple, the favorite color of the 22-year-old mother of two, shot to death Thursday by her estranged husband. He lured her out of an Anytime Fitness at a Cottage Grove strip mall and killed her in a nearby Jimmy John's sandwich shop. He then fatally shot himself.
On Saturday, about 50 people who knew and loved Tensia gathered in a field near the shop where she died, crying and comforting one another.
"Tensia touched many lives," said her brother Michael Martinez, speaking on behalf of their father, who he said was too grief-stricken to attend. Michael said Tensia's family was struggling with "sheer disbelief," and that when he awoke Saturday morning, it hit him anew that she was gone.
The voice of another brother, Juan Martinez, broke as he thanked those gathered for their prayers on behalf of his family, then offered his own prayer for his sister.
Shauna Pierce, a friend of Tensia's who helped organize the vigil, said she was always laughing and smiling.
"We need to keep her memory alive," she said.
Thursday's murder-suicide ended several years of an abusive relationship, police say. Craig Woolery, Cottage Grove's director of public safety, said Friday that Tensia "thought there could be a snapping point" with Chevel Richard, her estranged husband, describing a June 2011 incident in which it took several officers to subdue him after a fifth-degree assault arrest.
That morning, Chevel had found a text message on his wife's phone from a male friend and tore her from her bed, according to an affidavit seeking a court order for protection. He hurled their son's playpen against the wall, then grabbed the boy while screaming obscenities. When she tried to call 911, he grabbed the phone and smashed it.
A detective with the Cottage Grove Police Department had helped Tensia fill out a lethality assessment protocol survey, a tool used by investigators to determine the level of threat faced by a domestic violence victim. An order for protection was issued. But two months later, Tensia went back to Chevel, asking the court to rescind the protective order.
Family members said Saturday that a benefit fund has been set up for Tensia's sons, ages 5 months and 3 years. Those wishing to donate to the Chavelo and Ace Martinez Benefit Fund can do so at any Twin Cities branch of the Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union.
Staff writer Jim Anderson contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet 612-673-4495