Shaline Seguinot

My name is Lourdes Vasquez,and I live in New Jersey.  I happened to be looking for something on the net and came across your website. I just thought I'd tell you about my story.  On August 4, 1995, my 13-year-old daughter Shaline Seguinot borrowed a friend's bike to go around the corner and within five minutes she disappeared.  Her decomposed body was found three days later, in a wooded area behind the Pyne Poynt School where she attended. Shaline was brutally raped and stabbed to death. It has been 4 years and her murderers still walk our streets. DNA showed she was raped by two different men. I know how it feels to lose someone so precious. Shaline was an innocent child caught up in the sick mind of these individuals. There is not much I can do to bring my daughter back, but the Lord has given me the strength to continue to move on and fight for the rights of the victims in my community. I want everyone that reads this story to know that I hold no animosity towards the individuals who took the life of my beautiful daughter Shaline, but if they are ever caught I want to see justice served.  

Sincerely,

Mrs. Lourdes Vasquez

UPDATE:

Posted on Mon, Nov. 11, 2002
Click here to find out more!

A 7-year journey to justice


While Shaline Seguinot's family preserved her memory, police pursued her killer.



Inquirer Suburban Staff

An hour after the guilty verdict, they formed a circle around the grave of Shaline Seguinot, clasped hands, and gave thanks that at last, after more than seven years, they had justice at least.

Leading their prayer was the nun who had tirelessly pressed Camden authorities to make the murder case a priority. Next to her was one of the homicide detectives who had pursued the case for five years, tracking the suspect to Puerto Rico and Florida, where Miguel Figueroa was caught. There were the victim's cousins and parents, who had their first child when they were just a few years older than Shaline, who died at 13. Her little sister, Crystalina Vasquez, who turned 13 during the trial, also joined the circle.

In a city where 59 others were murdered in 1995, these people ensured that the memory of the girl would not diminish, and that her killer would be found.

On Nov. 1, a jury convicted Figueroa of the murder and sexual assault of the seventh grader, who went for a bike ride and never came back. Her body was found in an overgrown lot behind Pyne Poynt Family School, where she was an honor student and a cheerleader.

The Seguinot murder was one of the most gruesome in Camden in years - a "stake in the heart of the city," as Lee Solomon, who was Camden County prosecutor during most of the investigation, recalled last week. She had been raped and stabbed 10 times in the chest, and her throat had been slit.

Sister Helen Cole, who runs the social-work outreach of Holy Name Roman Catholic Church in North Camden, had not met Shaline or her family before Aug. 4, 1995, the day the girl disappeared. But from that day, the nun turned her energies to working on behalf of the slain girl and the grieving mother. She called the Prosecutor's Office and police homicide division regularly for updates on the investigation, often offering advice.

"She's one tough sister," said Capt. Michael Kantner of the Prosecutor's Office, one of the case's principal investigators. In his office, Sister Helen was affectionately known as "Sister Charles Bronson." She was at every step of the investigation, every court proceeding. During the trial, she sat with Shaline's mother, Lourdes Vasquez, and offered support and comfort - and bottles of water, snacks, tissues, mints. "When someone has a trauma like this, you surround them with care, and that helps the healing," Sister Helen said last week. She persuaded a bank near the courthouse to allow Vasquez to park in its lot during the trial, saving her the $6 daily lot fee. At Holy Name, she organized a collection to pay Vasquez's bills for the month, and coordinated a schedule for a homemade dinner to be delivered to the family each night of the trial.

And over the years, a strong bond formed between the nun and the mother. They complete each other's sentences as they recall details about the investigation. Vasquez drew much of her strength from Sister Helen over the seven years they call "a journey." When it began, Vasquez struggled to accept the tragedy. "Shaline was afraid of the dark. I knew when she didn't come home - I just knew," she said. But for about a year, she didn't believe the body found behind Pyne Poynt was her daughter's. "I kept thinking she was going to knock on the door."

At Sister Helen's prompting, Vasquez eventually reviewed the autopsy report and its graphic photos. The body had decomposed and could not be visually identified; dental records were needed to confirm it was Shaline. Vasquez was finally convinced by a notation of a scar, on the right side of the victim's face, under the chin. Her daughter had been bitten there by a dog. After the murder, Vasquez tried to maintain a normal life. A month after the slaying, she went back to work as a teacher's aide. After a few weeks, she took a leave of absence at her doctor's insistence. When she returned to work a few months later, Vasquez was transferred to another school. Her new assignment was at Pyne Poynt, in a classroom that looked out on the field where the body was found.

"It was therapy," she said. "It was hard. Really, really hard."  The next several years were dedicated to her daughter.

Family and friends celebrated Shaline's 14th birthday at the cemetery with cake and balloons. Vasquez accepted her diploma at what would have been her graduation from eighth grade. And there were the vigils, marches, dinners, and one-year-anniversary Mass behind Pyne Poynt. The family and Sister Helen organized the "Shaline Seguinot Fun and Safety Awareness Day" and the "Shaline Seguinot Dream Day." They held fund-raiser after fund-raiser to collect money for a park in Shaline's name. Each event had two purposes: to remember Shaline, and to make sure the investigators didn't forget.

Camden Police Detectives Frankie and Miguel Ruiz, who are brothers, had grown up in Shaline's North Camden neighborhood. They had attended school with the girl's parents and uncle. Miguel's daughter was the same age as Shaline. For the Ruiz brothers, the case was personal, and horrifying. "If you got a drug dealer who is on a drug corner doing something illegal, that's one thing," Miguel Ruiz said last week in the detectives' office, where a plaque with Shaline's photo hangs on the wall. "But when you have a little girl who is just going on a bike ride and ends up raped and murdered - that's hard to deal with."

The Ruiz brothers, and Kantner and Martin Devlin from the Prosecutor's Office, spearheaded the investigation, spending countless hours interviewing 100 potential suspects and witnesses. A break finally came in 1998, when a female informant told authorities that Figueroa had admitted the killing. When Figueroa learned he was a suspect, he fled to Florida and later Puerto Rico, authorities said. In October 1998, Frankie Ruiz traveled to the mountainous area near Yabocoa, outside San Juan, to find Figueroa. But he eluded capture. Frankie Ruiz, Devlin and Kantner returned to Puerto Rico in February 1999 seeking the help of the island police, media and citizens in locating Figueroa. But after two weeks, the Camden officers returned empty-handed again.

Finally, in December 1999, Puerto Rico police informed the investigators that Figueroa was in Tampa, Fla. Kantner, Devlin, and the Ruiz brothers flew to Tampa the first week of 2000. They finally captured Figueroa, without a struggle, in a McDonald's restaurant. "There are some cases you'll never ever forget. Seven years, we never would give up," Kantner said last week.

It took two more years for the case to go to trial, and 14 hours for the jury to find Figueroa guilty. These days, Shaline's father is a corrections officer and lives in Woodbury with a new family. Shaline's mother works as an administrative assistant for a sports agent in Voorhees. But she also attends night classes at Rowan University in Glassboro, where she is a sophomore law and justice major. She wants to be a lawyer, perhaps a prosecutor. "I always wanted to, but this gave me the push," Vasquez said. "And I think I can do it."

Vasquez said her personality had changed in seven years. "Before, I was so shy, and I was really quiet. Then this happened, and I became her voice. I became so outspoken. Maybe it was the shock of knowing that I will never see my daughter again. Maybe that told me, 'You have to wake up and do something,' " she said.

Now that the journey to find her daughter's killer has ended, Vasquez is not sure what is next. "I would love to help other parents. I would love to sit next to them and tell them that it's not the end of the world, although it feels like it," she said. Memorials to Shaline continue: Vasquez presents an annual scholarship to a Pyne Poynt honors student. Sister Helen has helped secure a lot at Sixth and Grant Streets that will become a memorial park.

Shaline's 21st birthday would have been tomorrow. "I wanted it solved before her age of 21," Vasquez said. "I got my wish."


 
 

 


 

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