Belia Gonzalez still mourns for her murdered grandchild, Trini Gonzalez.
On Friday, Gonzalez scanned photo albums and photos used in the trial against a man and a woman who sexually and physically abused the 9-year-old girl before smothering her with a pillow and burying her in a shallow grave where her body laid for two years.
Trini’s aunt Frances Smithwick and boyfriend Roger Yarborough were convicted of murder and injury to a child in 1994 after Yarborough confessed to the crime.
Smithwick was sentenced to 99 years in federal prison and Yarborough was sentenced to 45 years.
Gonzalez hopes making people aware about her granddaughter’s abuse and murder will help other children.
“We need to let people know to think about what they do, the children are here to be loved, not killed,” Gonzalez said. “We hear so much about child abuse.”
During the 16th anniversary of Trini’s disappearance, Gonzalez said keeping her memory alive, as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month is a way to save another child.
“(They) need to be careful and don’t hurt their babies and if someone in their family is hurting them, they need to speak out,” Gonzalez said. “If the kids are afraid, they still need to report it to somebody.”
Gonzalez said she vividly remembers those tragic days when Trini went missing. Gonzalez has school pictures on her wall of Trini during her elementary school years. Trini attended Schallert Elementary School and was in the second grade. One picture that stands out was taken only a few days before Trini’s disappearance at Gonzalez’s wedding. Trini was dancing on the dance floor and having fun.
“Trini went to the dance and danced all night,” she said.
Police Chief Danny Bueno, who at the time of the case was a lieutenant, said he recalls those somber days of Trini’s disappearance and two years later in 1994 when her bones were found near a creek behind Easterling Drive by neighborhood boys playing. The boys found a skull, which they thought, was a ball.
“I think it was one of the first murders that we can recall of where a child was killed,” Bueno said. “I remember it happened on a Friday afternoon…it was a very emotional day and to know that these people were supposed to be the caretakers.”
Trini’s story will be featured in an episode of “Skeleton Stories” on Discovery Health. Gonzalez said she later learned that her sister, Smithwick, continually abused Trini by hitting and slapping her, burning her with cigarettes and making her do all the household chores. The night Trini was murdered, Smithwick was angry because Trini had spilled cocaine she purchased, reports show.
Gonzalez said school officials had reported the abuse to Child Protective Services in 1991, but CPS didn’t act on it fast enough.
“She was a little angel, she never hurt anybody,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know why she (Smithwick) did it, she never told us. I can’t forget…we couldn’t believe it was one of our family members.”