A difficult life. A brutal ending. ‘She mattered, and I want her to know’

They had met four or five years ago..

Jennifer Diaz was a drug addict with multiple convictions for prostitution.

Rebecca Shingledecker was a mentor volunteering in programs aimed at giving women like Diaz a chance to start over by addressing the underlying issues in their lives.

They became friends, a friendship that lasted even after Diaz ended up returning to the streets, and ultimately prison.

On Friday morning, Shingledecker returned a call from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office. She was informed that Diaz, 43, had been found murdered days earlier.

Though they had not been in contact in roughly a year and half, Shingledecker said the news that her friend had been killed hit her hard..

“The last time she was in jail, she had sent a letter and by the time I had found out, I had missed the opportunity to go see her in jail, which was devastating to me, ” Shingledecker said.

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Jennifer Diaz, left, and Rebecca Shingledecker Courtesy/Rebecca Shingledecker

Salomon Sandoval Marquez, 19, remains held in the Tarrant County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail, charged with murder in Diaz’s death.

When authorities could not initially find Diaz’s family, Shingledecker took it upon herself to ensure her friend would receive a proper burial. She started a GoFundMe page and began working with a funeral home, which recently announced it would donate some of the costs for families of loved ones killed in senseless acts of violence. She shared her quest with the Star-Telegram in an article published online Tuesday.

“Life did not treat her fair,” Shingledecker had said. “I saw her testimonial she gave in prison. I saw what happened from childhood. She was not treated the way she should have been treated. She was not just what society says. For her to be buried in an unmarked pauper grave ... I couldn’t have lived with myself.

“I don’t care what it takes, I’ll find the money to bury her because she deserved dignity and respect.”

On Wednesday, after news of Shingledecker’s efforts was made public, someone saw the reports and alerted Diaz’s family in Colorado City. Relatives have now made arrangements to bring Diaz home, where she will be buried among family members.

“If me going forward was all to get her to her family, then my job is done,” Shingledecker said Wednesday.

The crime

Fort Worth police had responded to a report of a shooting June 18 at the Golden Gate Motel in the 7500 block of Camp Bowie Boulevard West.

There, officers saw a white Chevrolet Avalanche parked in front of room 128 that then left the parking lot. Patrol officers followed the vehicle while Sgt. A. Mapes retrieved a key for the room and went inside.

Inside, Mapes saw what appeared to be a body on the floor of the bathroom.

“The body was wrapped in a white sheet and black plastic,” homicide Detective Matt Anderson wrote in a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Star-Telegram. “Sgt. Mapes observed a mop and smelled the scent of a cleaning agent.”

Officers pulled over the Chevy in the 7700 block of Camp Bowie Boulevard West and identified Marquez as the driver. Inside the teen’s pocket, they found a pocket knife that appeared to be stained with blood and a pair of handcuffs, the affidavit states.

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A police car sits outside of a room in the Golden Gate Motel where a man suspected of murder had been staying. Police had found the body of a woman in the room, police said. Jack Howland

In an interview with homicide detectives Anderson and Jerry Cedillo, Marquez claimed he had picked up the woman at Camp Bowie and Las Vegas Trail before going to his motel room.

“She had asked for a ride home and he told her that he would give her a ride but that he wanted to take a quick shower before taking her home,” Anderson said.

But once in the motel room, Marquez claimed to investigators, the woman said she was going to rob him and pulled out and pointed pepper spray at him.

Marquez admitted to the detectives that he then used an arm bar take-down to slam the woman to the ground and handcuffed one of his arms to the woman’s arms. He said he then stabbed the woman her in the neck and slit her throat with a pocket knife before later striking her in the kneecaps and head with a hammer in order to not leave a witness, according to the affidavit.

“Mr. Marquez said that he wrapped her body up in a sheet and trash bags and planned on leaving the body in the room,” Anderson wrote. “Mr. Marquez then took a shower, made several phone calls on his phone and then left the room.”

In a search of the Chevy, police recovered a claw hammer and keys to the handcuffs and motel room.

“She didn’t deserve this”

Shingledecker said she mentored women, some of them prostitutes and drug addicts, through her volunteer work with Reaching Independence through Successful Empowerment (RISE) and The Net, programs aimed at giving support to women like Diaz.

She also led Bible study at the Esther House, a ministry of the Southside City Church in Fort Worth, where Diaz had lived for a time.

“I just loved getting to know the women and hearing their stories and just loving them and just helping them to know they matter,” Shingledecker said. “I didn’t think anything less of them because of their backgrounds.”

Shingledecker described Diaz as a beautiful soul who loved to help others.

“She had child-like joy in her. Even though her eyes hid pain, she did smile, especially when she would dance through Esther House, singing ‘He Loves Us’ — her favorite worship song,” Shingledecker said.

Jennifer Diaz was found dead inside a west Fort Worth motel May 18. Courtesy/Rebecca Shingledecker

But Shingledecker said Diaz’s past traumas caught up with her and she returned to the streets, eventually returning to prison.

“I know she wanted to do right,” Shingledecker said. “I know people don’t believe it and stuff but they just don’t understand the effects trauma has on these women. They can judge them all they want, but they just haven’t been there and don’t understand.”

Shingledecker said Diaz accepted her consequences, turning to the Bible and writing Shingledecker stacks of letters and poems from prison.

She often talked about her son, though she didn’t have custody of the child.

“She talked about loving her son desperately, desperately in her letters,” Shingledecker said. “She talked about thinking of her son morning, noon and night... I want to get a hold of him when he’s an adult and somehow let him know how much he was loved.”

Shingledecker said she knew that since Diaz’s release from prison, she’d been hanging out on the west side but not sure where. Anderson said investigators also are unsure where Diaz had last been staying.

“It would have been like finding a needle in a haystack to go and try to find her,” Shingledecker said.

Addie Gedea, a family friend who grew up with Diaz, said the family had known Diaz was living in Fort Worth but had no clue she had been murdered.

“They tried to get her to move back home and straighten out. That’s just the life she chose,” Gedea said.

Shingledecker said she knows some will blame Diaz’s death on her risky lifestyle.

“She didn’t deserve this,” Shingledecker said. “Nobody deserves this.”

Help with funeral

Shingledecker began working with the Mansfield Funeral Home. The business recently posted on its Facebook page that it would donate basic service charges and a casket to assist families affected by senseless acts of violence in the Metroplex.

Christie Moore, owner of the Mansfield Funeral Home, said she was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and wanted to do something after seeing the “countless, senseless violence” going on.

“I was just like, as an owner, I’ve got to do something,” Moore said. “I feel that the greatest burden for the people left behind is the financial burden. What can I do to lighten the burden of those in need? I just prayed about it and God told me to do it and I did it.”

Moore soon had other businesses offering to donate for Diaz’s funeral, including flowers by Erinn’s Creations Florist and a police escort by DFW Metro Motorcade. Shingledecker has started a GoFundMe page to help with the remaining expenses, including for a burial plot.

Gedea said she and Diaz’s family members were comforted in knowing that others were working to ensure Diaz didn’t end up in a pauper’s grave.

“My thinking was to bring her home. She lost a brother in prison. He was buried in just a plot. They couldn’t bring him home. Nobody knew what to do,” Gedea said. “They’ve been through a lot.”

With Diaz’s family now found, Shingledecker said she still hopes to raise funds to one day place a memorial bench honoring Diaz’s memory along the Trinity River. A memorial service will also be held for Diaz on Friday afternoon at Southside City Church.

“I love her,” she explained. “She wasn’t treated with dignity in this life and she mattered to me. She mattered, and I want her to know and the world to know.”

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