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December 03, 2003

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Publication Date: Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Menlo Park girl's murder still a mystery Menlo Park girl's murder still a mystery (December 03, 2003)

** Maricela remembered as 'bubbly and eager learner' who had strong impact on others.

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Maricela Alvarez -- a vibrant 17-year-old Menlo Park girl who had recently emigrated from Mexico -- had three priorities in her young life: getting her high school diploma, learning to speak English and going to college.

After her brutal murder in San Jose on November 23, the two members of Maricela's family who were living here with her -- her brother and sister -- had a priority of their own: laying their sister's body to rest.

Maricela, who until recently was a student at Menlo-Atherton High School, was attacked on an isolated street bordering Coyote Hellyer Park in San Jose. A Santa Clara County park ranger found her in her car, barely alive, with multiple gun shot wounds to her upper body. She was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The cause of death was gunshot wounds to her head, chest and right arm, said a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County coroner's office.

Police have determined that Maricela was shot in her car, that her car's exterior was not damaged and that there was no evidence of a robbery. Although there were a few people working in nearby buildings at the time of the shooting, no one saw or heard anything, said police spokeswoman Gina Tepoorten.

On Sunday, November 30, one week after the homicide, San Jose police revisited the crime scene and canvassed visitors in hopes of finding witnesses, Ms. Tepoorten said.

Detectives are interviewing family members, friends and classmates to determine what might have brought Maricela to San Jose that Sunday afternoon, Ms. Tepoorten said. "It doesn't appear to be gang related," she said.

Ms. Tepoorten said there was no substance to the rumor that Maricela was dating a San Jose police officer. She would not comment on reports by other newspapers that Maricela was a ward of San Mateo County Child Protective Services.

Since her arrival in this country a little over a year ago, Maricela had been living with her 19-year-old brother and her 20-year-old sister in Menlo Park, said Denise Plante, the principal of Redwood High School in Redwood City.

Maricela's parents had been here for a time but had returned to Mexico with four other children, Ms. Plante said. The Alvarez family did not respond to Almanac requests for interviews.

Maricela had been attending Redwood High School since October. She had transferred from Menlo-Atherton to increase her school work load in hopes of earning enough credits to graduate in June, said Ms. Plante. She was planning to continue her education at Canada College, she added.

Redwood is a continuation high school designed to help students graduate on a schedule not available in a comprehensive high school. While many students attend Redwood because of academic or discipline problems, academically successful students such as Maricela attend to accommodate other priorities in their lives, Ms. Plante said.

"She was very industrious, very wonderful, a bubbly and eager learner and very proud that she was conquering the English language. She was a star in our program," Ms. Plante said.

Maricela had recently passed a milestone of sorts in her English language studies, Ms. Plante said. For the first time, Maricela had greeted her with "Good morning. How are you today?" Ms. Plante said.

"She was really happy when I understood completely," she added.

During their brief association, Ms. Plante said Maricela had once expressed to her a general concern of "being in danger," but said Maricela did not elaborate.

During her freshman year at M-A, Maricela had been an honors student in classes designed for students with limited proficiency in the English language, said Karina Escobar-Weaver, Maricela's counselor at M-A that year.

"She had made a very powerful impact upon kids and teachers while she was here at M-A," said Eric Hartwig, the school's principal.

Maricela also worked part time selling cell phones in a booth at the Mi Rancho Supermarket on Willow Road in Menlo Park, said store manager Yolanda Lopez. "She was just a normal teenager. She worked and she went to school and she was trying to get on with her life," Ms. Lopez said.

Raul Santana, a community liaison for the Sequoia Union High School District, had recommended to Maricela that she transfer to Redwood High to accelerate her graduation date.

After not seeing her for about a month, Mr. Santana said he happened to see her at M-A two days before her death. "She was very pleasant and very upbeat. We exchanged a few words," he said. "I'm really glad I got to see her. I remember her smile and everything good about her."

A vigil was held Friday evening, November 28, at St. Anthony's Church in Menlo Park, and a funeral Mass was held the next day. About 400 people attended both events, a church spokeswoman said.

Donations to defray funeral costs may be made to the Redwood High School Maricela Alvarez Fund, 1968 Old County Road, Redwood City, 94063. For more information, call 369-1411, ext. 7334.

To provide information that may help the investigation, call 408-277-5283.

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