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Latin Music Star Selena Shot, Killed in Texas Hotel

April 01, 1995|JESSE KATZ and STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. — Latin music sensation Selena, a 23-year-old Grammy winner who delighted audiences with her unpretentious blend of bouncy pop and tender ballads, died Friday afternoon after being shot twice at a Days Inn hotel here, allegedly by the former president of her fan club.

In a bizarre standoff with police, the woman suspected of shooting Selena locked herself inside a red pickup truck in the hotel parking lot for more than nine hours, threatening to commit suicide. As hundreds of Selena's fans swarmed the site, police tossed the woman a cellular phone and negotiated with her until she surrendered at 9:35 p.m. local time.

The suspect was identified by the slain star's father as Yolanda Saldivar, 32, who until recently had managed one of Selena's two clothing boutiques and had run the star's fan club. Saldivar and Selena reportedly had a falling out in a financial dispute; the singer's father said he suspected Saldivar of embezzling money.

The two women arranged to meet in the Days Inn on Friday afternoon to go over some receipts--but as Selena approached the hotel room, Saldivar allegedly shot her in the shoulder and back, said Rick Sanchez of radio station WMIQ 105, who pieced together the account from witnesses.

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Mortally wounded, Selena staggered to the hotel lobby. She was pronounced dead at Corpus Christi's Memorial Medical Center.

The news stunned residents of this Gulf of Mexico town 215 miles southwest of Houston. While the parking-lot standoff unfolded against the backdrop of a nearby oil refinery, Selena's fans stood somber and silent, growing rowdy only when the alleged shooter was taken into custody and sped away in a police car.

"It's like losing everything we know. Everything that Texas meant to us," said Olga Jaramillo, 26, who stood with the dumbfounded crowd outside the Days Inn parking lot in a cold evening rain. "It was like the day when JFK got shot. That's the way it felt to me."

Selena devotees also flocked to her suburban home in Corpus Christi, where her family huddled in prayer. Shaken and grieving, other fans laid flowers outside Selena's clothing shop, which sells women's accessories and bustiers designed by the slain star.

Meanwhile, many radio stations along the border dedicated much of their programming Friday to Selena's music--which she once described as a blend of country, polka and jazz. Weeping fans, some as young as 5, called in to request their favorite songs and mourn the loss of their role model.

Although she wore sexy bustiers and showed plenty of flesh during her energetic concerts, Selena was revered as a simple, girl-next-door type, devoted to her family, her music and her fans.

The star's first smash album, "Selena Live," won a Grammy last year for best Mexican American album. And her tune "Fotos y Recuerdos" (Photographs and Memories) currently ranks No. 4 on Billboard magazine's Latin chart.

Hefting a boom box blaring Selena songs--a rare noisy interlude in the otherwise grim vigil outside the Days Inn--aspiring beautician Lynn Garza, 29, said the Mexican American artist had inspired her to follow her dreams.

As the hours wore on, Garza sang along with Selena, then abruptly broke off to admit: "I can't sing worth nothing." Reflecting on her urge to keep singing anyway, Garza added: "That's just the way Selena is. She makes anybody want to dream. She is a great inspiration to anybody who wants to be somebody."

Born in nearby Lake Jackson, Tex., Selena Quintanilla-Perez quickly became a hometown hero, Southern Texas' ambassador to the world.

As Carlos Lopez, the general manager of KMIQ 105, said: "We saw her grow up. She is our pride and joy." Broadcasting live from the Days Inn throughout the afternoon he dubbed "Black Friday," Lopez added sadly: "This is the day that Tejano music has died. At least for a day."

Selena's career took off in 1987, when she was named performer of the year at the Tejano Music Awards. Just 15, she had already gained fame as a "Tex-Mex" artist with broad appeal on both sides of the border.

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"She had tremendous stage presence, a magnificent voice and great rapport with fans and her audience, which came through in her voice whenever she performed," said Susan Lietz, a spokeswoman for EMI Records Group North America.

In an industry known for high-flying egos and superstar tantrums, Selena was renowned as a down-to-earth performer who never strayed far from her roots. She started singing at age 9, when she formed a band to help raise money for her family. By 14, she was belting upbeat pop and crooning love songs in local nightclubs, cantinas and back-yard weddings.

"We just wanted to put food on the table," she told The Times last summer.

Since that humble start, Selena blossomed into a bona fide star, with fans far beyond the Texas-Mexican border.

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