Josh Tello shouldn’t be raising Rosalina as a single parent.
Alongside him should be Laura Buendia, his sweetheart of nine years. They began dating as teens, after he showed up at her Saginaw, Michigan, home with flowers, making her blush. They lay on the trampoline for hours, “talking about everything and just bonding.”
Tello was planning to propose next week in Chicago, atop a downtown skyscraper. He was still bandying ideas around with cousins and friends before two bullets cut Buendia’s life short in yet another extraordinarily violent weekend in America.
He’s now left with a partially filled baby registry and a funeral GoFundMe. Early June 5, following a dispute at a family barbecue, Buendia – 29 weeks pregnant – was shot in her mom’s yard, along with nephew Mariano Escareño, 24, and cousin Rafa Campos, 24. Two others were injured.
Buendia, 24, couldn’t wait to be a mother. Rosalina was due in August, and Buendia had already selected the color for her room – purple – and picked out items from her favorite cartoon, “Lilo & Stitch.” Buendia hoped Rosalina would love the mischievous blue alien as much as she did.
“She was just really loving. She was so eager to meet her child. When we went to ultrasounds, hearing her child and seeing her child brought her joy and comfort every day. I know she was going to be such a great mom,” Tello, 26, said.
Buendia’s cousin and nephew died at the scene. Buendia was rushed to the hospital, where doctors were able to deliver Rosalina, but they couldn’t save her mother.
Even by recent American standards, last weekend was notable. At least 16 people were killed and scores were wounded in 13 mass shootings – as the nation reeled from rampages at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, a school in Uvalde, Texas, and a Tulsa, Oklahoma, medical facility.
None of the shootings drew major headlines. In almost every instance, the victims were doing ordinary things: attending barbecues, celebrating graduations, enjoying a night out at a bar, taking a ride on a party bus – things you shouldn’t have to look over your shoulder while doing.
At the hospital, Tello recalls the agonizing wait for news. He prayed that mother and daughter would be OK, but no. Imagine the conflicting emotions washing over the new father: crushed to lose the love of his life, relieved his daughter made it.
“It really brought me joy and a little bit of comfort, knowing that Laura’s going to live on with our baby and she’s going to watch over us,” he said.
He’s been visiting the hospital every day and brings Rosalina photos of her mother. Despite being 11 weeks premature, she’s doing well. She’s growing. Tello marvels over the tiny girl’s grip. He likes to hold her feet. They’re getting long, and she has so much hair – dark like her parents’! When she’s older, he’ll tell her of her mother.
“How we started dating, how we started talking. She always loved to bake and to see other people smile. She was so sweet and kind. Family was everything to her, so I’m going to teach her the way of the family, too,” he said.
It began with five shootings overnight
Gun violence has marred 2022, which might be the nation’s worst year ever, experts say, with more than 250 mass shootings so far this year – roughly one every 15 hours. Even through that lens, June 3 through 5 was remarkable.
On June 3, the Buendias were mourning the loss of their grandmother, Maria Teresa Galindo, who had always been protective of Laura Buendia, the family says. She had died nine days prior. Tello remembers Buendia lamenting “her grandma was not going to see the baby,” he said.
“She talked about it every day, saying that she always hoped her grandma would hold our baby and take care of her,” he said. But after Galindo’s passing, Laura mourned not only her own loss, but Rosalina’s as well – no snuggles, no kisses, no presents. “Her grandma used to watch Laura all the time when she was little. That was like her second mom,” Tello said.
Not that Laura Buendia wouldn’t have spoiled Rosalina herself. A generous soul, she spoiled everyone. She couldn’t be away from her and Tello’s husky-golden retriever mix, Diego, for a few hours without stopping to grab him a treat or toy. She’d take him for car rides, just so he could stick his head out the window, Tello says.
After high school, she wanted to be a veterinarian, Tello says, but once she honed her baking skills in college, she set sights on perfecting the craft and owning a bakery.
“She had a lot of goals in life,” he said. “I know that she would’ve achieved them.”
The Friday before the cookout, Teresa Buendia, Laura’s cousin, was home in Bay City, north of Saginaw, when Escareño, another cousin, and Campos, her brother, checked in. They had brought food and, as always, jokes. They ate and cut up, and talked about making their grandmother proud, oblivious to the violence about to unfold – not only in their lives but across the nation.
It began that night, more than 700 miles away in Chesterfield, Virginia. Gunshots erupted at a graduation party, killing a 20-year-old and wounding seven more, CNN affiliate WWBT reported.
Over the next six hours, gunmen exacted four more mass shootings, CNN affiliates reported:
- A man, 31, was killed and three people were injured near an apartment complex in Omaha, Nebraska, KMTV reported;
- A party bus was “ambushed” in Ecorse, Michigan, leaving five wounded, Ecorse police Deputy Chief Jerry Flowers told CNN;
- Another graduation party was targeted in Socorro, Texas, injuring five teenagers, KVIA reported.
- A possible fight at a strip mall party in Phoenix, Arizona, led to gunfire, killing a 14-year-old girl and injuring eight others, KPHO reported.
With so much violence rattling the country, the shootings barely made national news, even though Phoenix had seen multiple slayings in recent days. The strip mall attack came days after a shooting at another party killed an 18-year-old and wounded five teens. It also came hours after Damarkus Edison, 15, was fatally shot outside his home, mere blocks from the strip mall, KNXV reported.
When Meagan Orantes’ daughter informed her Damarkus had been killed, Orantes took her 14-year-old to the scene to learn more about her pal. Orantes couldn’t help but think of Damarkus’ mother. She, too, lost a teen son to gun violence in 2020 and knows Damarkus’ mom’s pain.
“(Damarkus) was a very happy, funny young man,” she said. “He had his whole life ahead of him. He was in school. He was doing the right thing that he needed to do at 15 years old.”
She’s trying to help the teen’s mom, “doing everything in my power to help this other mother who’s lost her child and not knowing what way to go, what to do. … When you lose a kid, you don’t know which way to turn.”
Second graders crushed
Following the overnight violence, the nation witnessed a brief Saturday respite in mass shootings. There were still shootings – 246 people are shot every day in the United States, the Brady Campaign says – just none with four or more victims.
That is, until around 7 p.m. ET, when a shooting at an abandoned house in Macon, Georgia, left a teenager dead and three wounded, CNN affiliate WSB reported.
Meanwhile, in Saginaw, the barbecue had just gotten under way. It began as a small gathering, just a few friends, but word spread. Many neighbors are like family. They popped over. Laura’s mother called Teresa Buendia around 8 p.m. to say she hadn’t planned a party, but everyone was there now, so come on over.
Food is important to the Buendias. Laura won awards for her baking. She worked at an artisan bread-and-pastry shop and often arrived with treats from the bakery or her own kitchen. Rafa Campos prided himself on his grilling, and the Buendias host regular barbecues, especially in the summer.
As Campos and Laura’s father whipped up a feast of hot dogs, ribs and pork chops, the violence ramped up again:
- In Hempstead, New York, a 19-year-old was killed and three others were injured in a residential area on Long Island, police said;
- Gunmen in two cars fired 60 to 70 rounds at a graduation party outside Summerton, South Carolina, killing a mother of five and injuring several teenagers, according to police;
- Multiple shooters killed three people and wounded 11 in a popular Philadelphia entertainment district, police said.
Among the Philly victims was Kristopher Minners, who worked with second and sixth graders at Girard College, a boarding school for families with limited resources. He was celebrating his 22nd birthday. The school said he’d been doing an “amazing job” and was “a vital member of our community.”
Minners had a good heart and bright future, Richard Perdomo told CNN affiliate WPVI. Perdomo taught Minners at Girard. They became friends when Minners returned this year as a residential adviser.
“We saw his second graders today at breakfast, and this is crushing them,” Perdomo told the station. “It’s hard enough for the staff, but for the little ones, they’re trying to get their minds around it.”
Audrionna King, the mother of five in South Carolina, was also dearly loved, says cousin Alonso Felder. She had a 3-month-old baby, along with 12-, 9-, 7- and 1-year-olds. Felder is saddened the youngest will grow up never knowing their mother. The shooters, he said, are “monster straight animals.”
“She had a big heart. … She was a confident, pure-hearted person,” he said, adding later in a Facebook message, “This was a life that was taken, and the lives of innocent kids/adults that will never be the same.”
‘I just heard gunshots go off’
As the Saginaw barbecue carried into Sunday, Teresa and Laura Buendia chatted in the dining room with Laura’s mother. Laura had kicked off her shoes, and her mom and cousin teased her about her stinky feet. They laughed and talked about the baby as Laura shared photos.
“I think Saturday night, when I was able to talk to her and see the ultrasound pictures and touch the baby and everything like that, it’s probably going to be my favorite memory to hold forever,” Teresa said.
Teresa offered Laura a ride home, but she declined. Tello would pick her up. He’d been at the party earlier but left to celebrate a cousin’s engagement.
Around 2 a.m., a dispute outside became heated. Laura, Mariano Escareño and Rafa Campos were no fans of drama, so Laura’s sister, Sandra Escareño, 34, told everyone to go to bed. The party dispersed, and Sandra walked two relatives home, she says.
Laura, Mariano Escareño and Campos were always together. Laura and Mariano were born a month apart and had always been more like siblings than aunt and nephew. When Sandra Escareño returned from the relatives’ house, she found them in the yard tidying up.
“I walked in the house, and as the door shut behind me and I walked two steps, I just heard gunshots go off and I ran outside,” she recalled. “I seen Laura and Rafa on the ground. Mariano, I didn’t know until the police got here. I didn’t know he was in between the houses.”
Tello received a horrifying phone call.
“I was shocked. I was shaking. I was sad and angry. A lot of guilt. I should have been there,” he said.
The weekend’s violence continued. Minutes later, gunmen killed two people in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, police said. A third was fatally struck by a car while fleeing. Fourteen more were injured. Later Sunday morning, a shooting outside a Mesa, Arizona, bar killed a 23- and 25-year-old and injured two others, KNXV reported.
The spate of shootings intensified questions about the safety of everyday life in America, but Buendia’s family has different questions.
Who’s going to teach Sandra Escareño’s daughters how to bake cakes with Laura gone? Who’s going to watch movies with her kids and teach them to play video games with their cousin Mariano gone? Who’s going to keep the family in stitches if Campos isn’t cutting jokes and poking fun at himself?
Two questions haunted Sandra Escareño as she spoke to CNN four days after losing her sister, nephew and cousin.
“If I wouldn’t have walked in, I would have been killed, too, for sure. And to think, my three kids, what would they have done? They have their father, but just to imagine already losing those three loved ones plus another one. It’s like, I don’t know. And then I think to myself, if I was there, if I could have stopped it or something…”
She trailed off, pondering things a sister should never have to. She concluded, “I don’t think it’s sunk in all the way.”
The trio will be laid to rest Sunday.