By Tyler Davidson
Take a look at the Moreno Valley neighborhood where Norma Lopez’s family lives and you will see few indications that anything out of the ordinary has happened over the past few weeks. But look closer: A small collection of candles and flowers sits nestled in a corner of the neatly trimmed lawn.
And on a yellow flyer taped to an upstairs window, a picture of a dark-haired, brown-eyed teenaged girl is plainy visible.
So are the words “Possible Kidnapping.”
The kidnapping—later murder—of Norma Lopez—sent shockwaves across Moreno Valley, the Inland Empire . . . and beyond.
“Something Wasn’t Right”
As of press time, it’s been just over two months since 17-year-old Norma Lopez went missing after attending summer school classes at Valley View High School. On July 15, the teen was supposed to meet her sister and a friend in the early afternoon after she left class.
But Lopez never showed up.
“I was actually in class [ . . . ] and I kind of felt something was wrong,” Norma’s sister, Elizabeth, tells the Weekly during an interview at the family’s home. “I usually have feelings, I don’t know . . . something I can’t describe, when something’s not good. I was having the same feeling when my grandfather passed away, but it was even more . . . the pain was harder on me. I didn’t know until around six in the [evening] what was going on. There was something that was telling me to go home, that I needed to be home, but I had to stay in class because it was my first day there.”
“But I knew something wasn’t right.”
A framed picture of Norma sits on a table, flanked by votive candles and flowers, as a remarkably calm Elizabeth recounts what went through her mind as the situation progressed.
“[My dad said,] ‘There’s something we have to tell you. We don’t know where your sister’s at [ . . . ] I think they’ve kidnapped her.’”
Then came Elizabeth’s reaction.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I wanted to go house to house, knocking on each door, asking, ‘Do you know where my sister’s at?’ Anything. I was screaming, yelling. The neighbors probably thought I was crazy for a minute. But I just . . . I don’t know, I felt like driving back in my car and looking, seeing where she was at. [Seeing if] maybe she was with a friend or if maybe she was with her boyfriend. But my dad was just there, holding me, [telling me] ‘You’ve got to calm down. They’re looking for her, but you have to calm down.’”
A Sudden Outpouring
The search would continue for nearly a week. On Tuesday, July 20, a Moreno Valley resident discovered a body in a grassy field approximately two miles from where Norma was last seen, and on the morning of the next day, Sgt. Joe Borja of the Moreno Valley Police Department announced that the body had indeed been confirmed as Norma’s.
“I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was my sister,” says Elizabeth. “I thought, ‘No, they have the wrong person, it’s not her. I know she’s alive. It’s not her.’ All my brothers and sisters were like that, we didn’t feel it in our hearts that it was our sister. We felt it when it was our grandfather, when he passed away. We felt it when it was his time to go, but for my sister, it was like, ‘No, it’s not her.’”
In the wake of the young girl’s death, the outpouring of support from across the region has been massive. Hundreds turned out for Norma’s funeral at St. Christopher Catholic Church. The tragedy also led to “Norma’s Pledge,” a three-sentence vow drafted in part by Moreno Valley Mayor Bonnie Flickinger: “I look around. I don’t walk alone. I report suspicious activity.”
Elizabeth says that she and her family are pleasantly surprised by the reactions and tremendous show of support.
“We never really expected this big outcome out of it,” she says. “We never did. My mom always [asks me], ‘Do you think your sister would have been famous?’ Because it seems like the whole public loves her and they don’t even know her.”
The tragedy’s profile has grown to such an extent that bands such as Grammy nominee rock-rap act P.O.D. and alt-rock unit Alien Ant Farm (which has Riverside ties) have gotten involved.
Our Own Backyard
In addition to various small fundraisers that members of the community have organized in order to raise money both for funeral costs as well as a reward fund, a benefit concert will be held on Saturday at Moreno Valley College. The event is slated to feature appearances by Alien Ant Farm and P.O.D.
“Members of our band have children, and we’re from this area, so we’re very familiar with the region that this all happened in, and it’s just kind of shocking that it all went down in our backyard,” says Alien Ant Farm guitarist Terry Corso. “We really just want to help out in any way we can. If people are interested in seeing us play musical instruments and that helps, then that’s what we’ll do.”
According to Corso, the Riverside band, whose original lineup recently reunited for the first time in seven years, wants community members to try and help in any way possible.
“If anything, I hope that [fans are] just energized and charged for the cause. I hope that they take the good feelings of listening to some good music and [that] having a day of bands will be good and uplifting enough for the spirits, but at the same time, I hope that it can energize them to really get involved in any way they can.”
“Even if they just do the $10 donation to get in, that’s half of it right there.” Corso continues. “They’ve already helped out. If they can leave with an empowered feeling from the music, and seeing everybody pitch in and get involved, then that’s that much more.”
Helping put the benefit concert together is Gary Avila, vice president of Artist Development with Tao Music Group.
“When I heard that Norma Lopez was missing and then her body was found a week later, it struck a chord in me,” says Avila. “Being a parent, I knew that I had to do something to help prevent this from happening again.”
The name of the concert, “Never Again,” holds particular significance for Elizabeth.
“For me, it means this should never ever happen again. It really shouldn’t. If we all really do help each other, this would have never happened. If somebody was actually walking with her, maybe it would have never happened. We’re just letting people know that you shouldn’t be walking alone. Take someone with you or else wait at school, or if you notice something suspicious, let the school know. Even if you see someone walking alone, keep a watchful eye in case you notice something suspicious.”
We have to look out for each other. We might not be brothers and sisters by blood, but we are by God, so we need to keep [an eye] out for each other.”
As Elizabeth remembers her sister, tears well up in her eyes and a broad smile spreads across her face.
She tells us how Norma was outgoing and happy, that she practically had to schedule time to spend with friends because so many people wanted to be around her. Most importantly, she says Norma wouldn’t have wanted her friends and family to be shattered at a time like this.
“I know she would have been happy to have been remembered in a good way, not a sad way. She wouldn’t have wanted us to be crying or to just be sad, she would have wanted [to be remembered] as the happy person she was.”
Never Again: Benefit Concert Remembering Norma Lopez w/P.O.D., Alien Ant Farm, Butterscotch, Adam Lasher Band, Paloma and more at Moreno Valley College, 16130 Lasselle St., Moreno Valley, (818) 660-2888 (event info); www.moval.org. Sat, Sept. 18. Doors open 11AM, concert noon-5PM. $10 donation. Norma Lopez case tipline: (877) 242-4345.