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'She's here with us': On Día de Los Muertos, mom honors 16-year-old daughter shot to death in Northwest Dallas

Sara Alvarez, 16, was shot to death at an apartment complex in August 2020. Her accused killer is still out there.


On Wednesday afternoon, the Alvarez family gathered at the place they visit every Sunday.  

On Día de Los Muertos, the visit to their daughter Sara Alvarez’s grave felt different.  

Mariachi music filled the quiet area, and dozens of family picnics surrounded gravesites at Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas.   

A place typically associated with sadness felt a little brighter for Sara’s mother, Janet Valleza.  

“I feel like my daughter is here with us,” Valleza said in Spanish.  

Valleza, her husband and children decorated her gravesite with an ofrenda, or offering. Orange marigold flowers brought color to her burial site. The Lewisville mom placed her daughter’s favorite things at the ofrenda, such as Starbucks coffee, fruit and a music speaker. 

Sara loved music. The 16-year-old dreamed of going to cosmetology school and couldn’t wait to learn how to drive. When she turned 16, she begged her mom to let her get her first job.  

All of that changed on Aug. 15, 2020, when Sara’s life was taken in a matter of minutes. 

It happened during a visit with family. Sara and her cousins played hide-and- seek at the Lakeside apartments on Community Drive in Dallas. 

That’s when gunshots rang out and Sara was caught in the crossfire. Valleza told WFAA her daughter was an innocent bystander. 

Dallas police identified her killer as 29-year-old Jose Mancha-Solis, but two years later, he hasn’t been found.  

“I know I’ll never get my daughter back, but there needs to be justice,” Valleza said.  

Without closure, her daughter’s death is still difficult to process.  

“It’s been two years, but it still feels like yesterday,” Valleza said.  

As families filled the cemetery, each of them had a story of loss, but for a few hours, the Valleza-Alvarez family tried to focus on their happy memories with Sara.  

As the mariachi band played the popular song “Amor Eterno” over her daughter’s colorful grave, Valleza cried. 

It was a juxtaposition of grief and joy.

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