Salcido looks back on saga of survival

Date: 2009-10-15

Jennifer Garza
The Sacramento Bee

Carmina Salcido remembers her sister Sofia, 4, trying to protect her. She remembers her father's eyes when he came for baby Teresa. She remembers the silence that followed as he walked away.

"He was in a hurry to do what he was going to do," Carmina Salcido said.

On April 14, 1989, Ramon Salcido, 28, embarked on a killing spree that shattered the solace of the Sonoma wine country, horrified the rest of the country and ripped apart Carmina's life before it had really begun.

He had been drinking and doing drugs the night before. He loaded his kids in his car and looked for his wife, Angela, whom he suspected was having an affair with a co-worker at Gran Cru winery. He slashed his children with a butcher knife and left them at the county dump. When he was done, he had killed Carmina's sisters, her mother and four others.

He slashed Carmina's throat, and she lay there for 36 hours, bleeding, clinging to life. She was 3.

Carmina is 23 now and trying to restart her life. She is speaking publicly about her story because she wants to give others hope.

"I think there is a reason I survived and that's to tell my story, to show that people can live through the horrible things that can happen," she said.

Carmina believes in good and evil spirits and their constant battle. "That day evil won," she said.

The murders were only the beginning of her incredible journey, which includes a childhood in a strict religious sect and a year in a convent when she considered becoming a cloistered nun.

Salcido has told her story to friends, in therapy and now in a book, "Not Lost Forever: My Story of Survival" ($25, William Morrow, 304 pages). On Friday, ABC's "20/20" will air a segment on her life story.

"I don't think telling it is ever going to get any easier," she said, her eyes tearing.

Salcido spoke with The Bee on Sunday in the living room of her modest Sonoma apartment, where a photo of her late mother hangs over the TV set.

The resemblance between the two women is striking. Both have the same bright eyes, the same complexion, and the same determined expression on their faces. Carmina is the age her mother, Angela Salcido, was when she was killed.

"People have told me I look like her," Carmina said, her face lighting up. "My uncle told me we have the same laugh."

'Unimaginable' crimes

She still struggles to understand what happened to her family. Authorities said her father, Ramon, was high on drugs when he went on his rampage and that he committed the murders because he believed his wife, then an aspiring model, was cheating on him.

The detective who worked on this case said the crime scenes were "unimaginable."

"There are some things that shouldn't happen on this earth," said Capt. Mike Brown, now retired from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. "It was beyond comprehension. We were going from one horrible crime scene to another."

Brown said everyone remembers the Salcido victims because there were so many. "But there were other victims as well."

Besides killing his wife and two young daughters, Ramon Salcido killed his mother-in-law, Louise Richards. He also raped and killed his two young sisters-in-law, Maria, 8, and Ruth, 12. Salcido also shot and killed Tracey Toovey, his boss at the winery.

He shot another worker, who survived, and he tried to shoot another person, but his gun jammed.

In her book, Carmina said "the only reason I was alive ... was that my head had fallen foward and kept my airway intact long enough for the blood to congeal and seal it off."

Ramon Salcido fled to his family's home in Los Mochis, Mexico, but was turned in by his sister. Mexican authorities, who normally deny extradition of Mexican nationals in death penalty cases, nonetheless handed him over to U.S. authorities.

Charles Schulz, the late Peanuts cartoonist who lived in Sonoma County, gave the Sheriff's Department use of his private jet to bring Salcido back.

Ramon Salcido was convicted in November 1990 of multiple murders and other crimes and sent to death row at San Quentin State Prison.

After the killings, Carmina's grandfather, Bob Richards, was too devastated to care for her.

In her book, Carmina Salcido describes what happened next: She was adopted by a conservative Catholic couple from Missouri who changed her name and, with the exception of a special meal on the anniversary of the killings, forbade her to talk about her family.

Carmina said a trust fund, set up for her after the killings, was spent by her adoptive family. She said her family were members of "Tradition, Family and Property," or TFP, and kept her isolated. She wore ankle length dresses and was not allowed to talk to anyone outside the group.

"If a neighbor waved hi, then I could wave back," Salcido said.

Salcido said she escaped the family at age 17 by saying she wanted to live with Carmelite nuns, a cloistered order in Nebraska. For many months, she did, but when she was close to taking her vows, she had a breakdown. She spent eight days in a mental health facility.

"I was overwhelmed by everything," she said.

When Salcido was released, she decided against taking her vows, and she went to live at a ranch for troubled girls.

She later moved in with her grandfather for a year and then with two uncles in Sacramento.

Through it all, say those close to her, Salcido has stayed strong.

"Considering all that she's been through, I think she's doing really well," said her uncle, Lewis Richards. "She seems to be doing better and better."

Dreams of a singing career

Carmina Salcido moved back to Sonoma four years ago to work on her book, which she wrote with writer Steve Jackson. Walking around Sonoma and seeing where her mother lived has helped.

Salcido is an upbeat person. Warm and friendly, she has a soft spot for animals. She works as a dog groomer.

After years of living a restricted life, she now enjoys watching TV. "American Idol" is a favorite, and she plans to try out for the show next year.

Salcido would like a singing career. The only music she was allowed to listen to growing up -- and the only songs she knows -- are classical and religious. When asked, she sings a Gregorian chant, followed by "Ave Maria." Her clear soft voice fills the room.

Salcido's scar -- about three inches -- is noticeable, and she makes no effort to hide it. She is used to people staring at her throat.

"It doesn't bother me at all," she said."

She has visited the man who gave her the scar -- she refuses to call him "father," and refers to him by his first name only -- in prison.

Carmina stopped seeing Ramon Salcido after he kept telling her that she reminded him of her mother. "Things started getting creepy," she said. "He has never taken responsibility for what he has done."

She is not angry. She said she has forgiven him. She is moving on. Still, Carmina believes he should pay the price for what he did and should be executed.

"I wouldn't be against it," she said.

In June, Ramon Salcido's death sentence was upheld by the California Supreme Court. He will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now she wants to work on getting her life together. The book is the first step.

"It has helped in the healing process," she said.

On Sunday, Carmina Salcido and her boyfriend, Matt Inocencio, visited the family burial site of her mother, sisters, grandmother and aunts. It is a trip she makes every few weeks.

Sometimes she looks at their graves and talks to them and tells them what she has been doing.

In her book, she talks about what it's like to see the six burial sites.

"When I stand there in front of their graves, I feel as close to them as I can possibly be. I sometimes wonder if they're waiting for me," she writes.

Salcido said she will always long for them and believes her mother, who had big dreams of her own, understands her daughter's aspirations.

"I'm sure she's doing her best to help," she said.

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