Like clockwork, Andres Mata Jr. used to send his 17-year-old daughter, Nancy, text messages twice a day to let her know that she was on his mind.
“I used to text her every morning, ‘Good morning’ and later text her, ‘Good night,’ ” Mata said. “It was just my daily routine. Even if she didn’t respond, I’d know she was probably busy doing other things, but I would continue to do it. I would never quit.”
Today, Mata still sends daily messages to his oldest daughter, Angel, but is struggling to break the habit of then scrolling for Nancy’s name, too.
“I want to look for Nancy’s phone number so I can text her also, then I stop myself,” he said. “I realize I can’t do that no more.”
Two months ago, Nancy Mata was fatally shot in the house in the 3700 block of Bee Tree Lane that she shared with her boyfriend, Ricardo Casteneda Jr., 24, during a home-invasion robbery.
Casteneda was shot three times but survived.
Nancy Mata would have turned 18 on Wednesday.
Four men — Steven Moreno, 18, Israel Ruiz, 18, Aaron Rios, 19, and Daquarias Dennis, 18 — were indicted March 9 on capital murder charges. All remained in the Tarrant County Jail on Wednesday.
Casteneda told investigators that he had recently sold marijuana on behalf of Moreno and was attacked when Moreno returned for his money with accomplices, court documents state.
Police say Nancy Mata met the robbers’ demand that she show them where the money and marijuana were. But they shot her anyway.
There’s times that I ask myself, ‘Was she calling my name for help?’
Andres Mata Jr., father of Nancy Mata
“I feel like I failed her,” Andres Mata said. “I should have been there at that time and place to save my daughter. There’s times that I ask myself, ‘Was she calling my name for help?’ ”
Mata said his daughter was born in Fort Worth, a strong-willed and adventurous girl. He remembers how when she was only about 3, she was determined to learn to ride her bicycle without training wheels.
“After so many bruises and bumps, at the end of the day she was able to ride on her own,” he said. “She was always attempting to do things quickly.”
When her parents divorced, Nancy Mata lived with her mother, Adriana Cummings, and kept in constant contact with her father. She also had a nightly video chat with her youngest sister, Cecilia, 9, talking and playing games with the girl before the child’s bedtime.
Although she had dropped out of Paschal High School, Mata said, his daughter had talked about returning to school so that she could graduate and fulfill her dream of finding a job in the medical field.
They knew that Nancy Mata was living with Casteneda, but she never introduced him to her father and stepmother, Andres Mata said, perhaps because she believed he would disapprove.
He did not learn until after his daughter died that Casteneda was on deferred adjudication probation at the time of the shooting. He pleaded guilty in October to possession with intent to deliver cocaine.
“My husband said if he had known, he would have gone to get her,” Adriana D. Mata said. “I told him she was going to be with [Casteneda] regardless of what you do. You were just going to turn her against you.”
Andres Mata and his wife said that only recently Nancy Mata had accepted an invitation to dinner so that she could finally introduce them to Casteneda.
“I wanted to see what he was all about. She seemed happy. She seemed like she was in the right place with the right person. If she says she’s happy, that was good enough for me,” her father said. “I wanted to go ahead and meet this guy.”
The dinner never happened.
Andres said the family is going to grief counseling.
On Wednesday, Andres and Adriana D. Mata will gather with other family members at his daughter’s grave at Skyvue Memorial Gardens in Mansfield.
They’ll take a strawberry birthday cake covered in pink roses — identical to the cake that Nancy Mata had loved two years earlier when they had gathered at her grandparents’ house to celebrate her Sweet 16 birthday.
And they say they’ll try to focus on happy memories of the sometimes-goofy teen with a big smile and even bigger heart.