Evelyn Núñez gazed upon the smiling face of her daughter Samantha, who had been missing and was recently found murdered.
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
The smiling face of Samantha Bermudez graced the outside of her family's apartment this past Wednesday.
The smiles, however, were only two-dimensional.
And though the pictures were beautiful, they were reminders of the fact that friends and family had been robbed of the opportunity to see her smiling in person again.
Samantha Bermudez's family last heard from her in December 2011.
Seven months later, her death made New York City headlines when her body was discovered in the attic of Devandra Autar, who had hanged himself in an apparent suicide.
"It's a nightmare. I'm trying to wake up. I feel better that I put my daughter to rest," said Samantha's mother, Evelyn Nunez.
The family honored Samantha this past Wed., Aug. 15th with an impromptu memorial outside her Washington Heights apartment, and pictures of Samantha and bouquets of flowers graced the sidewalk.
Family and friends wrote messages on white posterboard panels and shared memories of the 19-year-old.
"She always made me laugh, always told jokes, always kept me in good spirits. She's the type of person you could talk to about your feelings. I will miss her and keep her memory alive," said her friend Kumci, who had known Samantha for ten years.
"She was a little imperative, but very friendly and playful," said Roberto de las Rosas, a family friend who had known Samantha since she was a child.
"My daughter was like Peter Pan, the girl that never grew up. She was too trusting; she didn't think anyone was going to hurt her. She didn't see the bad in people," said her mother.
Samantha, who was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and bipolar and had been staying at a shelter, was going to school and looking for a job, reported her older sister Jenny Rodriguez.
"She was improving," said her sister.
Then, in December, Samantha stopped all contact with family and friends.
Her mother Evelyn tried to report Samantha as a missing person but the fact that Samantha was 18 and living away from home at the time complicated matters.
The distraught mother also went to New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez's office to express her concerns.
With his assistance, Samantha was given missing person status in March and a detective was assigned to the case.
Her mother continued to relentlessly search for her daughter, posting missing person signs all over the five borroughs.
"My life was going out every day and put them all over. I used to leave my house at 7 in the morning and come back with my feet swollen because that's all I did. That was my job," she said.
Soon, Samantha's face was everywhere, and Evelyn received a call from a woman claiming she knew of Samantha's whereabouts and whom she was with.
The woman even sent pictures of Samantha and the man, whom they had never seen before. The woman gave the family her number, the number of the male individual, and several addresses throughout the Bronx and Queens he had been known to frequent, and told them that he was on parole in Queens.
Over a month ago, Jenny Rodriguez sent an email relaying the information to Detective Bonanno from the 33rd Precinct, who was supposed to be working on Samantha's case.
She said she had not received a response from him until after Samantha's body was found.
Despite official reports, family and friends are not convinced that Devandra Autor killed Samantha, and they say they question whether the local police made enough of an effort to find her.
"I want the public to know that if the policeman that took her case had done his job my daughter would be alive," said Samantha's distraught mother.
They say they want the missing persons squad to be held accountable for their actions, or in their opinion, lack thereof.
"A lot of boys and girls are disappearing and the police are not doing a good job on behalf of them. I would like to see numbers on how many kids are out there, and what measures the authorities are taking to find them," said Mr. De las Rosas. "This is really painful because I have daughters."
The family had a closed casket funeral for Samantha this past Thurs., Aug. 16th.
"I could not hug or kiss my daughter good-bye thanks to that man," said Evelyn