An Unsolved Shooting Baffles a Mom for Two Decades

The intersection of East 102nd Street and Park Avenue, where Margarita Torrres' son was found dead (Vicky Huang)

Twenty-two years after her son died from a gunshot, Margarita Torres walks away from the television whenever the clock hits 11:02 p.m., the time Torres’ son last spoke to her.

“Ma, it is 11:02, I will be right back,” the 18-year-old said to his mom as he headed out of the apartment on 97th Street, between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue. “He never came back,” said Torres.

The boy, whose name his mother prefers to keep private, was killed on June 17, 1993, in East Harlem. The investigation is still open; the shooter is still unknown. Torres, meanwhile, still grieves for the boy and searches for the killer. Although she has turned her grief into an aggressive stance against gun violence, she remembers every minute that’s gone by since that awful night.

“There is nothing we can do,” she said, admitting that sometimes she feels helpless. “I can’t bring my son back, but I want to get justice for him.”

Torres said her son behaved well, at least at home; he rarely missed an 11 p.m. curfew. “I don’t know whether he was selling, but I could tell he was not into drugs,” she said, adding that she would know because she smoked weed and used heroin in the 1970s.

The last time she saw him, she remembers, he had gone into his room. She’s not sure if he got a phone call from anybody or if he went out to look for his younger sister, who had not come home on time.

Six hours later, NYPD detectives knocked on her door. Her ex-husband, who was in the apartment at the time, talked to the detectives and they told him what happened. He then broke the bad news to his ex-wife. Torres remembers jumping on and hitting him, screaming, “Not my son, not my son.”

Police found his body near East 102nd Street and Park Avenue. Torres concluded that the shooting was not a robbery because he had everything on him—his cellphone, money and his condoms. “My son never left home without [condoms],” Torres recalled, “he always said, ‘Take two with me.’”

Right after she lost her son, Torres remembers that she would walk around the neighborhood where his body was found trying to find witnesses and investigate the murder on her own. But she said nobody wanted to talk about the incident. Twenty-two years later, the murder remains unsolved. The original detective has retired and the case is now in the hands of a new detective. Some family members tell her she should just let go, but the mother has not stopped hoping the killer will be found.

Torres said she tried to deal with the stress and emotion on her own, at first. She locked herself in her room and cried by herself so her other kids wouldn’t see her. She refused to see a psychiatrist.  Then in 2010, she joined Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., a non-profit organization formed in 2006 to fight against gun violence in New York City.

Today, she’s a little better, she admits, but she said she talks about her son to whoever will listen. She also posts his pictures on Facebook to keep his spirit alive. She wears a necklace with an imprint of her son’s picture. She also had a photograph of her son laminated to some shirts she wears. On the back of her left shoulder, she has a tattoo of her son’s name. Once a month, she goes to the cemetery. “I feel comfortable sitting there, talking to the stone, like talking to my son,” she says.

She’s tried to be positive and make a difference, so she’s taken first response courses at the Harlem organization. She says the CPR classes have taught her how to comfort parents who have lost their children. It’s also taught her to be more forgiving, though she does not think she would be able to absolve her son’s killer until she discovers the reason for the shooting.

She has since moved to East Harlem and said she sometimes hears gunshots at night. “I moved from an area where my son was killed to get some peace, now I get to listen to that,” Torres said. “It brings me back to my son [’s killing].”

Torres spends her days volunteering at Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., and hopes to become the group’s spokeswoman to help children like her son and other parents like her who have lost children. “I wish somebody was there to help my son,” she says.

She also takes care of her 44-year-old daughter, who is in the late stages of colon cancer.

“I am not healed completely with my son, now I have to start all over again with my daughter,” Torres said. “It is a different death, but the same pain.”


Ang Li