Nearly 28 years later and the family of Trini Gonzalez still mourns her loss.
“She's never been forgotten and we never will,” said Frances Gonzalez, Trini's aunt. “We will never forgot her. We thought the community had forgotten about my niece until Valerie Cantu reached out to us.”
Cantu said she was talking with her children about stranger danger when she began to tell her children about the events of Trini's murder. Cantu was a young girl when Trini was murdered and lived in the area.
“”It's important for us to remember her and not to forget what happened. We have to tell our children about Trini so they can understand the evil in this word and how we need to be aware of the things that happen around us,” Cantu said.
Trini was 9-years-old when she was sexually and physically abused by her aunt, Frances Smithwick, and her aunt's boyfriend, Roger Yarborough. The couple smothered Trini with a pillow and buried her in a shallow grave where her body laid for two years.
Smithwick and Yarborough were convicted of the 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 Trini's abuse and murder will help other children.
“We need to let people know that it's not just strangers who do these things to our children. We need to protect our babies,” Gonzalez said. “We want people to remember her. This should never have happened, but the sad thing is that it did. Now, I just hope that people in the community realize that even our own family members can't always be trusted to care for our precious babies. Teach your children that people hurting them in any way should never be a secret. They need to speak out.
Gonzalez said she vividly remembers those tragic days when her niece went missing and the devastation that her mother, Trini's grandmother, dealt with.
Trini’s story is featured in an episode of “Skeleton Stories” on Discovery Health. The family discovered the details of Trini's abuse and how 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, according to published reports.
Gonzalez said school officials had reported the abuse to Child Protective Services in 1991, but CPS didn’t act on it fast enough.
Cantu and Trini's family were together for a balloon release in September to honor Trini. They are planning a birthday celebration in January for Trini, who would have been 38.