We heard of my aunt's violent murder watching the national evening news in Spanish. My family members called each other right away, from San Francisco to Colombia, the East Coast and beyond.
My Tía's killer was her own son -- my cousin. He was in the midst of a psychotic break. We never got the sympathetic call from the police we expected. Instead, we got a low blow from the district attorney. He wanted the death penalty.
We didn't have the $100,000 it would take to get a private defense attorney, so we gave what we had. Some planned the funeral. Others gave their English skills and education. I flew to Miami to advocate for him.
We pored over his school and medical records to reconstruct his painful past. When we met with his public defenders and realized how overworked they were, we gave our time. We became his investigators.
We banded together in our grief.
Finally, the obvious became clear to the DA and he dropped the death penalty charges. A judge ruled that my cousin was ill, that he was not fit to stand trial at all. He will probably live the rest of his life in a mental hospital. It sounds strange, but that was one of the best gifts I ever got.