Slain teen never met suspect, friends say

Arraignment set for this morning

Paola Castillo died Sept 20. Paola Castillo died Sept 20.
By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / September 28, 2009

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Paola Castillo had never met her accused killer until he showed up at her 18th birthday party in a Hyde Park home with a gun tucked in his pocket, according to her friends.

Nineteen-year-old Ruben Sanchez, who will be arraigned today in the Sept. 20 fatal shooting of Castillo, was a stranger to the 4 1/2-months-pregnant woman and the group of about 17 friends who were at the Hillis Road apartment to celebrate her birthday with a lasagna dinner and birthday cake, the friends said.

He arrived with three other men, including the boyfriend of one of Castillo’s friends, and the group was soon asked to leave because one of them made a disrespectful comment, according to other partygoers.

“I didn’t know who they were,’’ said Raquel Solis, 31, a mother of six who hosted the party for Castillo, her daughter’s best friend, who she said was beloved by her entire family. “I went into the living room and one of them said something I didn’t like, so I asked them to leave.’’

Solis said the men left her second-floor apartment, then she followed when she heard them arguing in the first-floor hallway.

“I saw him pull out a gun,’’ said Solis, referring to the shooter, who police allege was Sanchez. “I started screaming.’’

Solis said she believed the gun had been tucked inside the shooter’s sweater pocket. She said the gunman was “shaky,’’ and she urged him not to shoot anyone, but said if he was going to shoot anyone, then he should shoot her.

The gunman ran outside and fired three or four shots, sending partygoers who were nearby running for cover, according to Castillo’s friends.

Yahaira Cruz, 16, Solis’s daughter and Castillo’s close friend, said Castillo ran to the second-floor hallway and “stuck her head out the window and was telling my cousin to come back in the house.’’

Castillo, who lived on Quincy Street in Dorchester, was struck by a bullet below her collarbone shortly before 2:30 a.m. as she leaned out the window. She ran downstairs, bleeding, then ran back upstairs, collapsed in the kitchen, and died.

Cruz, her mother, grandmother, and friends gathered yesterday at the Hillis Road apartment, tears streaming down their faces as they talked about Castillo and how much they loved her. She had lived with them for months at a time during the past couple of years, they said.

“You never know what you have until it’s gone,’’ said Cruz, adding that she wants to know why Castillo, who was so happy and excited about her future, had been killed.

“I want [Castillo’s family] to know it wasn’t our fault,’’ said Cruz. “I know it’s their loss, but it’s our loss, too. This was her second home. We all loved her.’’

Efforts to reach Sanchez’s family were unsuccessful.

Castillo’s brother, Francis, 22, said he, his mother, and sister will be at Sanchez’s arraignment this morning in West Roxbury District Court. He said none of them know Sanchez.

“None of us were prepared for this,’’ said Francis Castillo, adding that one day his sister was showing him ultrasound photos of her unborn child and talking about baby names, and the next day she was dead.

“I don’t want this to be just another sad story,’’ he said, lamenting the city’s gun violence. “I want something to be done about it.’’

Yesterday, Solis couldn’t stop crying as she talked about Castillo, and the despair she felt because she couldn’t protect the teen in her home.

“I’m so sorry for her family,’’ Solis said. “It happened in my home, where I felt like I could protect them.

“That’s what’s killing me. I was supposed to protect them. The one place I thought they were safe, they weren’t.’’