Knife attack leaves family with struggle

Tragedy: Octavio Flores and his family hoped for a better life in America. Now, his relatives face living without him.

January 29, 2000|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

In the last few moments of her son's life, Mercedes Peralta clung to him. She cradled him in both arms, propping herself against the family's vinyl living room couch, and begged the smooth-faced young man to fight for his life.

Octavio Flores tried to reply. But the 20-year-old, stabbed in the heart in front of his Upper Fells Point home the morning of Jan. 22, was choking on his blood and could not get out a word.

This is not supposed to be happening, Peralta said she was thinking as she held her son. "My son came to America for a better life," she said through an interpreter. "To make a way for us to be happy."

Flores came to this country alone at 16, crossing the Texas border illegally in search of work. He became the main provider for his brothers, sisters and grandparents in a rural Mexican town, and for his struggling family of undocumented immigrants here.

"Now what do we do?" said Peralta, who witnessed the attack and fought off the group of men who killed her son and tried to kill his best friend that night. "What do we do?"

Flores, the first in his family to make the trip to the United States, had moved to Baltimore four months ago from New York City. He was engaged to Maria Diaz Guzman, and the two shared a tiny bed in a cramped upstairs room where two others also slept.

"Together, we would work doing whatever odd jobs we could find, we would scrape together almost $100 a month and send it home," Guzman said. "At home $100 could provide for my entire family for a long time."

With assistance from the Mexican consulate in Washington, Flores' body will be flown home next week, to the central Mexican state of Puebla.

Peralta and Guzman are trying to come up with the money to fly to Mexico so they can attend the burial. They're relying on a local activist, Angelo Solera, to help arrange the trip and raise funds to pay for it.

If they make it, the two have no idea how they would get back to Baltimore. They might be forced to make a potentially deadly trip across the border.

"We are relying on God to give us strength and show us what to do now," said Peralta, as she looked down on the makeshift shrine the family has created in the living room, on the spot where her son died.

The shrine, which has flowers, candles, small loaves of bread and cups of water -- items meant to comfort the spirit of the dead -- is particularly important to Peralta. "It is our chance to show him how much love we have," she said. "Because that night, we didn't get a chance to say goodbye."

Attacked outside home

Flores and his best friend, Hector Torres, 19, spent the evening of Jan. 21 dancing at a Fells Point bar.

The two had known each other since they were children. They met playing soccer in the alleyways of their Mexican town. Reunited in Baltimore, they were inseparable, friends and family said.

They returned about 2 a.m. Saturday to the narrow, three-bedroom rowhouse Flores' family shares with nine other people.

Finding himself locked out, Flores shouted to his mother's third-floor window to wake her. As the two waited, a group of men came out of a bar across the street.

There were 10 to 15 of them, and they appeared drunk, said Torres, speaking through an interpreter as he lay recovering in his bed, a 7-inch scar from the attack streaking down his stomach.

"They saw us standing there and said, `What are you looking at? What's wrong with you?' " said Torres. "The next thing I know, they are beating on us. I was getting hit and kicked and suddenly I felt a sharp pain on my side. The knife."

`Two hard-working kids'

Peralta said she ran outside when she heard the commotion. A few feet away from her doorstep, she found her son and Torres lying on the ground, being attacked by the group of men. They hit and kicked her as she waded through the fighting and dragged the two boys into her apartment.

"It was the worst moment then," she said.

None of the attackers has been arrested, but homicide Detective Darrell Townsend said he has strong leads.

"It's another terrible situation on our streets," he said. "These were just two hard-working kids in the wrong place at the wrong time. We'll find the killers."

Prayer and pain

Peralta and her family and friends pray every night, in a circle that sometimes swells to 20 others, surrounding the living room shrine. They pray, she said, for justice.

"It was not supposed to happen like this," she said, a look of sorrowful resignation on her face.

Contributions to assist Flores' family can be sent to the Octavio Flores Fund at Bank of America, c/o Rosalind Asch, 10 Light St., MD43020103, Baltimore 21202.

Sun researcher Jean Packard contributed to this article.

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