Residents of 22-year-old Melanie "Zee" Colon's North Philadelphia neighborhood and members of the city's LGBT community, in which Colon performed under the moniker "DJ Kiss," called her the "gay barbie," her brother Ralphiee said Monday afternoon. "She always had to leave the house fabulous, with her hair done, her makeup looking just right," he said. "She was my dance partner, everything to me. She wasn't a regular person – she was a star."
The young mother's life was cut short after a passerby discovered her decomposed body in Juniata Park early Saturday morning. She had been shot six times at close range, family members said. "It must've been real personal," said Colon's ex-girlfriend Ashley Rivera. "To do something that violent..." she dissolved into tears.
"It was selfish. It was evil. It was an act of anger, of hate," Colon's stepmother Marybell Colon said. "Today, I'm angry." Police have not yet been able to determine how long Colon's body laid in the wooded area near Tacony Creek Park and are unsure if the medical examiner will be able to provide more insight.
"She was a little angel God gave us from the time she was born and we feel cheated someone took someone so precious," said longtime family friend Judith Harris. "It was wrong to snatch her away. Somebody stole all my hugs and kisses from my baby. God will find out who did this."
"If God don't, we will," Rivera interjected. "The legal way," Harris clarified. "It's too easy to get revenge."
With that, what began as a joint effort to find Colon and Reynaldo "Chino" Torres, 43, who together went missing Tuesday night after leaving her home in his 1983 Mazda, ended in tragedy for one family and cast a pall of suspicion over the other.
"We shared information at the beginning," Marybell said. "We saw it as two people missing and we acted on that immediately. They are both somebody's child."
But the families' relationship soon changed, she said, after Torres' empty car turned up in Feltonville. Marybell claims that Torres' family members moved the vehicle from Second Street and Roosevelt Boulevard to Front and West Rockland streets, where it was recovered by police. "That's a concern to us, why they did that," she said. "If there was evidence, we didn't want it to be touched, but it was."
Four days later, someone stumbled on Colon's decomposed body less than a mile and a half away from the discarded vehicle. Torres' whereabouts are still unknown. "He was a man she knew and trusted to run errands. She trusted this guy," Marybell said, adding that the two were not romantically involved and that Colon had a boyfriend in New Jersey. "She trusted him enough to leave with him that day. She trusted him enough to bring her back and he didn't."
Police said both families have been cooperative and that Torres is still being treated as a missing person, not a suspect, though they do want to speak with him about Colon's death. "Hopefully we can locate him he can shed some light on it," Lt. Jim Miller of East Detectives said.
But Colon's family disagrees. "He was the last person seen with her. His phone is off," Ralphiee said. "To us, he's a suspect."
"He got scared and he ran off," said Colon's mother Zoraida Miranda. "He knew what he did was wrong and he took off." Family members said they have received tips of Torres sightings in both New York City and Northeast Philadelphia and that phone calls from his relatives have brought threats in lieu of condolences. "He has answers. His family has answers. ... I pray and I pray they will find him because we need this closure for our daughter," Miranda said.
Marybell said that, aside from Torres' young daughter, his once-supportive family has been absent since Colon's body was discovered. "I've seen no effort on their behalf," she said.
Mother's Day nightmare
While many families spent the Sunday holiday celebrating with their families, Colon's received the call every mother dreads – police believed a body found the day before was that of Melanie Colon. Ralphiee said he knew it was his sister before he even laid eyes on the corpse because investigators described her distinctive tattooed eyebrows. "We expected to give her flowers on Mother's Day," Marybell said. "Not a medical exam determining her cause of death."
"Someone I've known so long, to know I can't see them no more – this is forever," Ralphiee said. "I got to take it to the grave with me. But when I go to the grave, my sister will be waiting."
Friends and neighbors gathered in front of the Colon's home offered similar words of encouragement. "I'll tell you something my great-grandmom used to tell me: look at the sky," Rivera said to Miranda as it began to drizzle. "See those little tears coming down? This is the angels rejoicing – she's home at last."
But both Marybell and Miranda couldn't help but dwell on Colon's final minutes. They said the lack of details, the not knowing, is nearly as painful as the brutality itself. "She fought," Miranda said. "We know she fought."
"That kid was her heart," Marybell said of Colon's son, 4. "There's no doubt in my mind that baby was on her mind in her last moments. She fought for him. I can't breathe anymore, I can't talk to her kid. He thought the balloons [in the memorial] were for her birthday – next Thursday would've been her 23rd birthday."
Though many family members expected to find some solace after learning Colon's fate – her brother said it was draining to keep constant watch for a call or text – her specter continues to haunt the entire family. "We still don't have closure as far as I'm concerned," Marybell said. "Not until we know where [Torres] is at."
"I talked to Melanie in my dreams Tuesday night," Miranda said. "She said, 'Mom, I'm okay. I'm fine.' From just then, I knew in my heart that something was not right."
Marybell agreed. "We all felt it Wednesday. We all had the same sharp pain – it was unbearable." Miranda's face crumpled and Marybell pulled her close. "We're gonna find him, mami," she said. "We will know the truth."
Colon's aunt, Cynthia Colon, also dreamt of Melanie Tuesday. "She said, 'Tell my mom I love her.' And then I heard a gunshot," she said. She turned to Miranda. "She said she loved you. She was thinking of you."
Just then, a wall-mounted portrait of Colon clattered loudly to the floor, shocking the crowded living room into stunned silence. "She's here," Miranda said softly. "She's looking down on us."