Yadhira Romero Martínez moved from Mexico to Minnesota in September to work and send money back home to her family.
Relatives of the 19-year-old say she left her job at Bloomington's Walmart on Thursday around 4:30 p.m. By Friday afternoon, police had a home in south Minneapolis cordoned off with crime tape where her body was found after someone called 911 for a welfare check.
On Sunday evening, Minneapolis police announced 23-year-old Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga was arrested in Ohio on an emergency arrest warrant after fleeing Minneapolis. Investigators worked with Ohio State Highway Patrol to quickly locate and arrest the suspect within eight hours of being identified by authorities on Friday night.
Officials are working on obtaining a warrant to extradite him to Minneapolis to face charges. This is the city's 23rd homicide this year.
At a vigil Saturday evening outside the rental house where she was found in the 3000 block of 18th Avenue S., mourners honored the life of Martínez while raising awareness and outrage over the violence against women — particularly women of color — an epidemic referred to as femicide. Another vigil was held in Atlacahualoya Morelos, Mexico, where Martínez is from, and more demonstrations in Minneapolis are planned for this week.
"I want justice for her, but the overall message that I want people to understand is that this can't keep happening to women," said cousin Luis Romero Ortiz. "We want people to stand up for them and just be vigilant, be observant and say something if you see something. ... She was a very kind, very nice person. She came here trying to help her family in Mexico, to work and be able to provide for her family."
Ortiz said his cousin remembered a little bit of English from when she was born here and before leaving for Mexico around first grade. "She picked it up quick when she came back," he said, adding that she moved to Bloomington in September.
Minneapolis police are treating the case as a homicide while awaiting autopsy results. Police found Martínez after a 911 call at 12:32 p.m. Friday.
"Evidence at the scene led officers to believe that the death may be unnatural," a news release on Friday stated. "Homicide investigators were summoned to the scene where they began a suspicious death investigation."
In a statement Saturday, police spokesman John Elder said that questions have been circulating on social media about the homicide involving Uber, the ride share app, but investigators "have not been able to confirm that at this point, as their efforts were focused on identifying a suspect, locating him in another state and getting him into custody."
Neighbor Anely Martínez, who's not related to the victim, said she "didn't see or hear anything unusual" on Thursday, but she saw police officers outside the house Friday moving a blood-covered mattress while detectives spoke with neighbors who have front porch surveillance cameras.
Anely Martínez said that she has never seen Yadhira Romero Martínez at the house before.
"It's really sad to know that we're not even safe," she said, while looking over the growing memorial next to her house that is filled with balloons, stuffed animals and signage in Spanish and English calling for justice.
Mourners continued showing up at the house Sunday afternoon, bringing flowers and prayer candles that are still burning and numbered in the dozens a day later.
The family is hosting two online fundraisers through GoFundMe campaigns to raise money to transport Martínez back to Mexico so her parents can lay her to rest. Martínez, also known as Yadhi, was described as a "gentle, kind soul who was working hard for her family."
"She had come here, like most immigrant families, to find a better life for herself and to support her family back home," wrote cousin Jun Romero on Facebook. "She didn't know the language well, she didn't remember much of the place she was born, and she had a younger brother with her here to look after as obstacles stacked against her.
"To have her life taken so soon to such a violent and disgusting way was something she didn't deserve. No one deserves that," he continued. "She was my cousin. She was a daughter. She was a sister. SHE WAS A PERSON. I love her and I will miss her. Please protect your sisters and educate your boys/men. Machismo, sexism, and violence exist in every nook and cranny of our lives no matter how small. If you see it, stop it. Unlearn to stay silent in these matters for the sake of women and fem-presenting people everywhere. She didn't deserve this and you don't either."
A vigil for Martínez will be held Monday evening in Mankato on the Veterans Memorial Bridge. At 5 p.m. Thursday, a march is planned in south Minneapolis, starting at Mercado Central, 1515 E. Lake Street, and ending at the memorial on 18th Avenue S. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751