Soila Gonzalez spent months angry with the Chicago Police Department.
Her sweet, doting son Christopher Torrijos had been murdered on camera. She carried the video with her on her phone. And yet the police had failed to arrest the man who did it despite the video evidence.
“I was mad. I [felt like there was] discrimination, because I didn’t see no flyer, no reward,” Gonzalez said.
But on Monday afternoon, sitting on her front porch looking out at her well-tended garden in Little Village, Gonzalez was feeling a sense of relief.
The man who she believes killed her son had been arrested and charged with first degree murder for allegedly shooting the 27-year-old Torrijos during a celebration for Mexican Independence Day last September in Chicago’s South Loop.
“When I received the news I started crying and I had one of my friends in front of me and I hugged her and we started crying,” Gonzalez said. She said then she called her husband and other son to share the good news.
She said her whole family was comforted by the arrest, mostly because it takes away the fear that Martin Torres, her son’s alleged killer, will hurt someone else. It also brings some level of closure to a family that has struggled to move on while their loved one’s case was still open.
WBEZ has previously reported on Torrijos’ killing, the clear video evidence and Gonzalez’s anguish over the prior failure to make an arrest. Now, Gonzalez said she is having a hard time believing that the suspected killer has actually been caught.
She said since learning about the arrest she has repeatedly woken up unsure if it was all a dream.
“And then I grab the phone and see the picture [of Torres’ mugshot] and say you know, ‘he’s here. Like, they got him,’” Gonzalez said. “So I say ‘okay, go back to sleep. It’s true.’”
‘As soon as that head pops up from underneath that rock’
Chicago Police Deputy Chief of Detectives Rahman Muhammad said he understands why Gonzalez was so upset while her son’s alleged killer was on the lam.
“It’s important for us to give the victim’s family a voice, you know, that space to where they can vent and definitely express their frustration as to … how the investigation is going from their perspective,” Muhammad said.
But he said the July 8 arrest of Torres in south suburban Steger by CPD’s Fugitive Apprehension Unit and the U.S. Marshals Great Lakes Regional Task Force is proof that they don’t give up on cases after a few months. Muhammad said it was “not rare” for them to make an arrest in a case months after a murder.
Muhammad would not provide details on what information helped them finally locate and arrest Torres, saying the information could jeopardize “methods and sources” police might use to catch fugitives in other cases. All he would say was that some “new information” came to their attention and the fugitive task force “followed up on that relentlessly.”
“I just want everyone to realize … that sometimes, cases are brought to a conclusion immediately, sometimes they may take a little longer. But if there is a wanted individual and an arrest warrant for that offender … we cut no corners to try to bring that offender into custody,” Muhammad said. “When an offender is in hiding, they are in hiding. So as soon as that head pops up from underneath that rock, we’ll be there to make that arrest.”
‘It’s good news, but it’s hard’
Since WBEZ first reported on Torrijos’ killing and on Gonzalez’s righteous anger, Gonzalez has completed the process of becoming an American citizen, and she’s changed her name. She was previously Maria Soila Vega, but she said she learned the mother of her son’s alleged killer is also named Maria Vega. She said she couldn’t bear to share a name with her, so she changed it to her middle name plus her husband’s last name.
Gonzalez had been counting the days since her son’s killing. She is grateful for his alleged killer’s capture, mostly because it means he won’t be able to hurt anyone else.
But the news of his arrest has stirred up complicated emotions. She thinks about her son everyday, but this latest turn brought every memory rushing back.
“It’s like everything [came back] again. Like I remembered the first time I went to the hospital, everything,” Gonzalez said. “So it’s hard. It’s good news, but it’s hard.”
Torres is currently being held in the Cook County jail, he has a bond hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning. Gonzalez does not want to see him get out. But she said she also is feeling for Torres’ mother, who is in a way also facing losing her son.
“I’m happy that he’s locked up already, because he’s not gonna hurt anyone else. And there’s not gonna be another family crying for another kid,” Gonzalez said. “But like I say, I feel bad for his mom, because she’s not gonna have her kid no more around her. Maybe she can go and visit him. But she’s not gonna be able to hug him.”