Justice for Jasmine: 10 years after teen's murder, family fights to keep memory alive
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last in a three-part series recounting the murder of 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara, which occurred 10 years ago Sunday.
Jasmine Guevara loved life so much, she compared it to a carnival.
In 2009, Guevara was a busy, social teenager: she ran track and cross country, played hockey and was in the school marching band; she worked multiple jobs so she could pay for everything from clothes to her braces.
Guevara was also a fighter, and her mother said that began at birth. She and her twin brother, Manny, were born in California after 28 weeks of gestation, and Jasmine weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces.
"They were so little. They were in the hospital for so long, and Jasmine was the fighter, because she came out from the hospital right away. She was in the incubator for one and a half weeks, and then she was breathing on her own," Guevara's mother, Ada Morales, told The Daily Republic this week.
Morales and Guevara's older sister, Ada Guevara, said having seen Guevara's resilience, they knew she fought back as hard as she could on Nov. 10, 2009, when 19-year-old Alexander Salgado and 15-year-old Maricela Diaz stabbed her and put her in the trunk of her car before setting it on fire in rural Hanson County.
Ten years later, Morales said because Diaz and Salgado didn’t show mercy to her daughter as she was fighting for her life, she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forgive them.
“I asked God to forgive them, because I can’t,” she said.
Guevara's family members said that while Salgado's and Diaz's murder convictions in 2010 and 2015, respectively, gave them a sense that justice had been served, not getting the chance to say goodbye to Guevara is one area where there has been no closure.
“It probably sounds like we’re vengeful, but we just wanted justice," Ada Guevara said. "It’s not that they ran her over and it was an accident. Everything that they did to her and what they did to try and cover their tracks, it’s horrible. We didn’t even get to say goodbye. We weren’t able to see her in her casket one last time and see her face. We didn’t get to see that. She was completely gone. They wanted to make her disappear.”
Though Guevara’s remains were recovered the night she died, her family was unable to bury her for the nearly three months between her death and when investigators released her body. Owners of several local businesses provided a free funeral, grave opening and closing, grave marker and flowers. Nearly 200 people attended a ceremony honoring Guevara in February 2010.
“When I got her remains, it was just a plastic black bag with something inside that I could feel floating around," Morales said "...We didn’t get to see her. For me, actually, it’s not closure. It’s not. Because I wanted to see her no matter what she was. I wanted to see what was left of her. It was my daughter, no matter what. But I didn’t have that. As a family, we didn’t have that.”
Morales, who has been at every court appearance for both of her daughter’s murderers aside from Salgado’s indictment, said both Diaz and Salgado stared at Guevara’s family members in court, making them uncomfortable. When she stared back, Morales said, Salgado would look away, but Diaz wouldn’t break eye contact.
“They never showed any remorse,” Ada Guevara said. “They never really showed that they were sorry for what they did. In all the years and all the court hearings, appeals and everything that we went to, Maricela never looked like she was sorry.”
Salgado did not respond to a letter from The Daily Republic. Stanley Keillor, a Minneapolis-based attorney who previously represented Diaz, said Friday that Diaz did not want to speak about herself.
Guevara's mother and sister described her as an outgoing, caring and active person who was compassionate toward both people and animals. She wanted a big family and a pink pig, and she often brought home animals to care for, such as a puppy she bottle-fed and turtles she picked up off the road. Morales said at one point, there were two ducks, eight turtles, three dogs and six fish at the family's Mitchell home.
Guevara said she wanted to be a plastic surgeon for children with cleft lips because she wanted to help people feel confident.
Evidence of Guevara's desire to help was uncovered in the investigation of her murder. The family said that on the application Salgado had used to get work at Toshiba, where he was picked up for questioning about the murder, Morales was listed as a reference, and the application was in Guevara's handwriting.
"Can you imagine having the person for who, supposedly, you are the reference, kill your daughter?" Morales asked. "That hurts me so bad, and I feel so betrayed. And I am very sure that, filling out the application, that might be Jasmine’s idea.”
Ada Guevara said at one point, when Diaz told Guevara she liked the sweater she was wearing, Guevara took it off and gave it to her. It was that sweater that was found on the path Diaz and Salgado walked back to Mitchell after the murder, and it was held up at trial as the sweater Diaz wore when she stabbed Guevara.
“She just was trying to help them. I don’t know why they did that. I don’t understand. I still don’t get it. We’re never going to have the answer," Morales said.
Morales said she has no animosity toward the families of Diaz and Salgado. Diaz’s mother occasionally brought the couple’s daughter, who was born about four months before Guevara’s murder, to court, and Morales brought the girl coloring books, knit her a scarf and allowed her youngest son, Daniel, who was two months younger, to play with her.
“I understand, as a mother, it’s not her fault,” Morales said. “I can’t be mean with a little kid. And this girl came over to see her mom. And I feel sorry for that little girl, to have a mother like that, parents like that. She’s going to deal all her life with that.”
“This woman, who has every reason to hate everything that has to do with Alexander Salgado and Maricela Diaz, sees through this and holds this love in her heart,” said Joel Reinesch, who was an investigator for the Mitchell Police Division at the time of Guevara's murder. “It was absolutely amazing.”
For the past decade, Guevara's family has made a point to keep her memory alive, and Ada Guevara said they're grateful for the community support they've received.
Following Guevara's murder, Morales was unable to work. Guevara's twin brother, Manny, hadn't wanted to go back to school and walk down the same hallways he and his sister both used to walk.
Though Guevara's youngest brother was less than two months old when his sister was murdered, the family has told him about her.
“We always talk about Jasmine at home, so he knows about her. Obviously, he never got to know her. And he’s grown up with that, that he has two sisters, but one’s not here anymore. I know that he wishes he would have known her," Ada Guevara said. "The little time that they did have together, Jasmine adored him.”
For some of the approximately 80 law enforcement personnel who worked on the murder case and the legal team that prosecuted Salgado and Diaz, the Guevara case continues to stand out 10 years later. Reinesch, who now teaches criminal justice at Dakota Wesleyan University, said he references the case in nearly every class he teaches.
Deputy Attorney General Bob Mayer and Department of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Tyler Neuharth both said the level of violence in the case has stuck with them.
“Every case is unique, and you probably learn something with every one. This one was especially eye-opening for me, just because of the brutality of it, the circumstances," Neuharth said. "Jasmine was a high school girl that was doing everything in her power to help these people out, and they essentially turned on her.”
It's now become an annual practice for some of those involved with the case to get together with Guevara's family around the anniversary of her death, and a mass is held in her honor each year.
“We think about what her life would be like now. Manny’s married; he’s got kids. I have a baby, and she’d probably on that path to have a family of her own," Ada Guevara said. "What would she have done? Where would she have gone? Who would she have met? The places she could’ve seen and what she could’ve done — all of that was taken away from her.”