Date: 2005-11-05


The Press Democrat

Sixteen years after her father slashed her throat at the start of Sonoma County's ghastliest murder spree, Carmina Salcido is a steady young woman with no high school diploma, no car and little money.

What Carmina has in this world, chiefly, is a scar and a story.

After growing up cocooned by adoptive parents 1,600 miles from where Ramon Salcido butchered her mother, two sisters and four others in 1989, Carmina has returned to California to share the long scar and the tragic story with the world.

"This is the first time anyone has heard my recollections," said Carmina, who, dressed in a black suit, seemed mature and calm for a 19-year-old who has endured what she has.

She's telling it publicly because she wants people to know she intends to write a book about her life and all she can recall or glean from others about the day, 10 days before her third birthday, that her father went killing.

Carmina is direct about many things, including her primary reason for wanting to write the book. "It's an avenue for me to make some money," she said.

She hopes the sales might help finance the next phase of what she expects to be a simple, quiet rural life, perhaps one that involves working with animals in Montana.

She also came back to California for another reason: to look into her father's eyes on Death Row.

Carmina is neutral and detached when she speaks of the possessive former Sonoma Valley winery worker who cut the throats of all three of his daughters -- Sofia was 4, Carmina 3, Teresa 22 months -- and tossed them near a south county dump.

Carmina is an ardent Catholic who, after leaving her adoptive parents in central Missouri two years ago, lived and studied for a year at a Discalced Carmelite monastery in Nebraska. She said she forgave Ramon Salcido -- "what a true Christian would do" -- after reading in the Bible that before dying Jesus Christ asked God to forgive his executioners because "they know not what they do."

"Maybe Ramon knew what he was doing, maybe he didn't," Carmina said. Either way, she said, she intends to confront her father at San Quentin and tell him, "This will be your one chance to say you're sorry, to show some remorse."

She said she doesn't know when she might arrange a visit. For now, her main goal is to let people know she is back and wants to talk to people who knew her and her family before what she calls "the tragedy" of April 14, 1989.

She also wants to legally change her name. From age 3, when her mother's father, Robert Richards, allowed her to be adopted by the couple in Missouri, she was known as Cecilia Tucker.

Now that she's on her own and legally able to decide what her name will be, she said she's going to change it to Carmina Cecilia Richards.

She said that although she was just short of 3 years old, she has clear memories of April 1989 and even earlier. She has few positive memories of Ramon Salcido.

"I was definitely afraid of him," Carmina said. She recalled that he often was angry and combative when he arrived at their home in Boyes Hot Springs.

For her and her sisters, she said, "it was was a run-to-your-room-and-hide-under-the-bed kind of thing."

She said she remembers Salcido pulling her, Sofia and Teresa out of their beds early that cold morning, driving them to the dump on Stage Gulch Road between Sonoma and Petaluma and cutting them.

"I just thought he must really, really have been mad at me," she said.

Both of her sisters died that morning. Carmina said she remembers getting to her feet and taking a few steps before collapsing.

For the intoxicated, jealous and besieged Ramon Salcido, the bloodletting had just begun.

He drove away from his discarded daughters and at a series of stops murdered his wife, Angela, 24; Angela's mother, Marian Richards, 47; Angela's two sisters, Ruth Richards, 12, and Marie Richards, 8; and Tracy Toovey, 35, an assistant winemaker at Grand Cru Winery.

Carmina lay there for about a day and a half. She believes she remembers that, well into the next day, she heard footsteps and froze because she feared it was her father, coming to cut her again.

The person approaching turned out to be a man who saw the three small figures lying in the dirt and thought they were dolls, until Carmina moved slightly.

Doctors at Petaluma Valley Hospital discovered that the knife slash that stretched nearly the entire width of her throat had barely missed her carotid artery. One doctor said the position in which her head came to rest, with her chin on her chest, may have closed off the bleeding and saved her life.

Across Sonoma County and the entire country, people appalled by the Salcido killings rejoiced at word that Carmina was found alive. Gifts filled her hospital room when she turned 3 on April 24, and about $100,000 in donations flowed into the Carmina Salcido trust fund.

Her grandfather, Bob Richards, was devastated by the loss of his wife, all three of his daughters and two of his three granddaughters. He decided it was best to allow Carmina to be adopted by a family living far away from Sonoma County.

Most of the trust fund went to Carmina's adoptive parents for her support.

Carmina said the nearly 15 years she lived as Cecilia Tucker in central Missouri were years of isolation and extreme protection.

Her adoptive mother home-schooled her, she said, but only to about the eighth-grade level. She said that by and large they left the home only to visit with church friends.

As she reached her teens, Carmina said, "Dating, socializing and being out of the house were out of the question."

About two years ago, when she was 17, she said, she left after arranging to live at the monastery in Oklahoma. About a year ago, she moved to Montana to be closer to her grandfather.

Carmina said she worked there for a time at a dog-washing shop and helped train a horse. She did some work toward her high school equivalency diploma but didn't finish.

She said that about a month ago she had a chance to come to California and stay with two of her mother's brothers in Sacramento, and she grabbed it.

She can only guess what the future holds, but for now she's preparing to get busy talking to people who knew her and her family 16 years ago and girding herself for a visit to Death Row.

At the same time, she said, "I'm still trying to figure out why I'm still here."


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