Monica says she kept her feelings inside. Then she began dating Michael in April 1999. They met in Junior ROTC at El Rancho High School. He became her confidant, her boyfriend, the biggest fan at her games. They walked to class together, and after school spent hours on the telephone. They marked each other with hickeys, and left bruises from their roughhousing.
She dreamed of studying biology, Michael of being a Marine. But when his grades slipped, his parents forced him to quit ROTC, court records say. "If he had stayed in ROTC, senior year he would have been commander of the platoon," says Monica, who also quit.
Monica's family and friends say Michael was an introspective teenager who dressed in black. He liked to collect knives. "I thought it was an ROTC thing," said Daniel Gonzales, Monica's friend and neighbor.
Michael denies the story, circulating since his arrest, that he was a black-coated Goth steeped in punk music.
"I listen to lots of stuff," he says from a visiting booth in jail, his dark hair pulled into a ponytail, close-cropped on the sides, a tiny hoop earning in each lobe. "My five bands are Queen, Nirvana, the Beatles, Metallica and Green Day."
As for his knife collection, he says, "That's a long story."
Monica says he gave her three. He also collected Zippo lighters, one of which he converted into a tiny flashlight for Monica, engraving it "For My Little Munchkin."
"I'm scared of the dark," Monica says with a giggle.
He gave her jewelry and videos. One day at school, she says, she was craving chili cheese fries, so he ran to a taco stand and returned, red-faced and sweaty, with her order.
He also had a temper, she says: "Michael, he's nice, but when he gets mad, it's everybody run and hide. After being with Michael a few months, people at school said, 'If you break up with him, tell me the day before so I won't come to school.' "
Michael may not have been a parent's idea of the perfect boyfriend, but the elder Floreses thought it wise to embrace him. Richard Flores once took his prized samurai sword from a safe to show a fascinated Michael, Sylvia says. The boy came for dinner, picnics and birthday parties. "He was over too much," remembers Sylvia. "We wanted him to go home."
Sylvia says she felt sorry for him. Monica, she says, told her Michael had tried to commit suicide four times, something Monica denies.
But as summer 2000 approached, Richard Flores was growing increasingly worried about the relationship. He thought Michael was weird. Sneaky, he told Monica.
Michael says he has no complaints about Richard: "He was keeping an eye out -- making sure I was an all-right guy. They were all pretty nice to me."
On the night of July 20, 2000, little Sylvia and Monica played together in an El Rancho High summer league basketball game.
In the stands sat most of her family. But Michael wasn't there. He didn't have a ride.
When they got home, Monica and little Sylvia climbed into the bed they shared. Esperanza, the last to arrive home, bid her parents good night and slipped into her bunk bed in the room she shared with Laura. She phoned a cousin to chat, then drifted off to sleep about 1 a.m.
Sometime later, Michael allegedly entered the house through the back door that investigators say Monica had left unlocked.
Police say the killers moved through the house swiftly and methodically.
They had two locking-blade knives, a balisong -- or butterfly -- knife favored for hand-to-hand combat, a double-edged throwing knife and a dagger. The handles of some of the knives were wrapped with cord and cloth tape, for a better grip, according to investigators.
They started with little Sylvia. She was stabbed repeatedly, from her throat to her abdomen, a piece of silver duct tape left dangling from her cheek.
In the next room, Richard Jr. was knifed and slashed across his throat. Matthew was partly disemboweled.
Michael, investigators allege, next made his way to Richard and Sylvia's bedroom. A sleeping Sylvia was stabbed first. She awakened to see her husband struggling with an assailant she could not make out in the dark.
With her foot, Sylvia says, she pushed against the attacker, surprising him and prompting him to jump off the bed. He stumbled back and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Michael escaped on his bicycle and rode 2 1/2 miles home to his parents' house, according to investigators.
Meanwhile, Esperanza was awakened by sounds from her parents' room. As the back door was shut, she heard the rattle of the ceramic chili peppers strung outside. She went to the hallway and saw her father clutching his throat. He fell to the floor.
"Call 911," said her mother, lying on the bed. She had been stabbed in her chest, her torso and chin. Esperanza tried the phone, but the line was dead. She ran across the street to the house of Manuel and Helen Yglesias and pounded on their door. The couple called police, then went to the house with Esperanza.