Pain and the agony of loss came to a home on Chestnut Alley in Canton, Miss., as those who loved victims of a massacre there came together to mourn. For nine days after murder struck the home on Dec. 29, 2020, mourners met at the house to pray daily as part of novena, a Catholic ceremony in Guatemala after someone dies.
As mourners gathered, they set up an altar with photos of the murdered brother and sister, Jesus Christ candles, teddy bears and a small container where people left money to send their bodies back to their family in Guatemala.
The still-unsolved shooting left Faustino Ramírez, 20, and his sister Martina Ramírez, 19, dead, as well as her unborn child. She was eight months pregnant. Her one-year-old toddler girl was shot in the face, but survived.
But the mourners and the Hispanic community felt more than the pain of loss. The bloody murders of three Guatemalans in the house in Canton is fueling long-standing anger among this population who feel they are victims of frequent robberies and assaults in the community.
They want answers, which haven’t come.
Young Adults Had Recently Moved to House
The Ramírez siblings were minors when they arrived in the United States from San Marcos in western Guatemala. “They worked growing and picking coffee in the mountains that surround their town, and here in Mississippi they worked in chicken plants, and in construction,” their uncle Julio Moreno, who asked that his name be changed, told the Mississippi Free Press.
Faustino, the oldest of the Ramírez siblings, was the first to make the journey from Guatemala through Mexico to reach the U.S. at the age of 15. Faustino crossed the border and first went to New Jersey where he lived for four years, just traveling to Canton a year ago to meet family there, Moreno said.
Martina, the second of nine siblings, arrived at the U.S. border from Guatemala in 2017 when she was 16 years old. She turned herself in to immigration authorities and started a process for asylum in which Moreno, her uncle, took responsibility for her. Moreno offered the Ramírez siblings their own house to live in, and tried to help them as much as he could, but did not see what was coming the day the siblings announced they would be leaving their home to become independent.
“They said that they were already of legal age so they were going to choose where to live,” the distressed uncle recalled. “It didn’t mean anything bad. On the contrary, they had grown up and wanted to take responsibility for themselves.”
Shortly after the announcement, the Ramírez siblings moved into a house just a five-minute drive from their uncle’s house in downtown Canton. David, another Ramírez sibling, who is 15, came to Canton to live with them and was at the house the night of the murders, but hid during the attack.
Happy Reunion Turns Into Tragedy
Two months before the murders, the three Ramírez siblings had rented the house on Chestnut Alley in Canton. It seemed to be a happy reunion for the family after several years of being apart. They hoped to have a Christmas as merry as the ones they remembered from Guatemala.
Their happier days ended on Dec. 29 at 1 in the morning. Ramírez siblings were sleeping when a person broke into their home. He entered through the back of the house unnoticed, their uncle said.
“The intruder tried to open the first room he found, where Faustino and David were, but he found it secured, so he kept walking to the end of the hallway where Martina’s room was,” Moreno said.
Apparently, Martina was under the covers hugging her one-year-old daughter when that person invaded her room and shot them mercilessly.
“Two shots were fired, one at Martina and the other apparently at the little girl. Faustino left his room and on the way to Martina’s room, he ran into the murderer who also shot him to kill. In total there were four shots that night,” the uncle said.
Little Girl Survived, Staying with Relatives
Screams of his sister warned 15-year-old David Ramírez that something terrible was happening inside his house. Then the roar of gunfire scared him, and he jumped into the closet in his bedroom.
David heard a person who could be the murderer screaming and talking, but due to his language limitations, he did not understand what he said. It took five minutes for the killer to leave the house after massacring the boy’s loved ones.
When David came out of his hiding place, he found the bodies shot and lying on the floor and bed. Just the toddler who has not learned to speak yet survived the attack. “The girl received a shot in the right cheek. Now she is fine at home with some family members,” Canton Police Chief Otha Brown said.
Relatives say that when David saw the little girl, she was not even crying, but undaunted, as she looked at what had been done to her mother.
Marcela Jiménez (name changed) lives in Canton and knew the siblings. She said that given David’s lack of English, he could not call 911 to report the triple homicide. The young man called a relative who spoke his dialect. “In five minutes, he arrived at the house, and then they called 911,” Jiménez said.
Relatives, friends and acquaintances of the Ramírez family came to the scene, terrified of being victims, too. Police and forensics took fingerprints, collected evidence and left with the three dead bodies.
Some relatives of the deceased complained about a delay in the arrival of the police and the ambulance at the scene of the massacre. Chief Brown told the Mississippi Free Press that for now he cannot speak about these allegations.
Fear of Constant Robbers and Assaults
The massacre shocked a Hispanic community frustrated with being victims of constant robberies and assaults in Canton.
Father Mike O’Brien of the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Canton told the Mississippi Free Press that the last two years Hispanic members of his parish in Canton have suffered three or four shootings. “The Ramírez siblings were killed, but there were other Latinos badly wounded after being robbed,” Father O’Brien said.
A neighbor of the Ramírez family, Karla Medina (name changed), explained that there are different levels among Latinos who are victims. “The most affected among Hispanics are Guatemalans, because they are small, defenseless and easy to intimidate. Some Americans make fun of them on their face because they don’t understand English. That really makes me angry!”
She remembers many aggressions against Guatemalans that they did not report because most of them are undocumented, and they believe that they can get in trouble with immigration authorities. “Other times, something is not achieved by reporting to the authorities. I remember when young African Americans shot a Guatemalan teenager in the abdomen during a robbery. The Hispanic survived, filed the complaint, and they never solved anything,” Medina said.
Ramírez’ uncle, who is also from Guatemala, said that recently three men wanted to invade his home but changed their minds when listening to his dog barking. “I was watching them without them noticing I was. … When the dog barked, they said: ‘Shit! They have a big dog!’ and they left.”
Thefts in this area of downtown Canton are frequent, according to Moreno, who remembers that the house where the murder of his nephews took place was robbed months ago, when other people were the tenants.
“That house has been robbed twice. The first time the thieves entered and took computers, tablets and televisions,” he said. “Those who lived there at that time left the house for a moment, and when they returned to it, the thieves had already left with everything. That time, they didn’t hurt anyone.”
The Language Barrier
Marcela Jiménez knows the Hispanic population of Canton very well as she owns an employment agency that helps many find work. She says most Guatemalans began to settle in Canton because of the proximity of the town to the chicken plants where many of them work, and also because the rent of houses in this place is cheaper than in other places of Mississippi.
“A lady from Guatemala who came here to look for work in the past few days told me that a couple of teenagers stole her purse when she was walking down the street in downtown Canton,” she said. “Some Guatemalans say that this happens because police do not protect them very well.”
The Mississippi Free Press asked the Canton police for a response to this perception of insecurity by the Hispanic community, but the police declined to comment.
Jimenez points to misunderstandings between the police and Guatemalans that arise because of the language.
“Many Hispanics do not speak enough English to communicate with the police. To solve this, it would be very good if they brought policemen who speak Spanish,” Jiménez said.
About this situation, Father O’Brien said a group of people was formed a few days ago who are trying to find a way to make Canton’s Hispanics live safer. This group is made up of local authorities, Latinos and their parish.
Faustino Was Going to New Jersey
Jiménez knew the siblings and remembers that they were respectful and discreet people as are almost all Guatemalans living in Canton. “Faustino wanted to go back to New Jersey, so a few days before he was assassinated he had quit his construction job to follow his dreams,” she said. “I guess he had money to make his trip, and the killer knew it,” she said.
Canton Police Chief Brown confirmed that a robbery was committed on the night of the massacre. “We are still trying to find out the real reason, but money was taken when the murders took place. … I don’t know how much,” he said.
The family told the Mississippi Free Press that Faustino had between $2,000 and $3,000 in the house that night.
Perhaps the tragedy could have been prevented if Faustino had kept his money in a bank, but many Guatemalans do not have bank accounts. Most undocumented immigrants from Guatemala come from poor families who do not use the bank, because they never have money to save.
“It is hard for Guatemalans to get used to opening checking accounts because in their countries the money they make is only enough to fulfill their daily duties,” Moreno said. “When they arrive in the U.S., although they earn more money, many of them keep their distance from the bank.”
Moreno does have a bank account and advises all of his compatriots to open one. “In some banks, Guatemalans only need to show their passport to have checking accounts approved. Even if they are illegal (immigrants), it is very easy,” the uncle said.
Chief Brown told Mississippi Free Press that the Canton Police is trying to solve the case, including gathering testimonies from neighbors and working with the help of the Madison Sheriff’s Department.
Siblings’ Bodies Returning Home to Guatemala
As the investigation continues, the family of the Ramírez siblings are trying to make sense of the tragedy and bring closure to the family. Before they could perform the novena at home, they first had to clean the house.
“After they did their work, the police told us that we could stay at the house if we wanted,” Moreno said. “Nobody wanted to, but before we left we were forced to clean up the blood and fix everything to start praying the next day for the murdered.”
Now, the priority is to get the bodies back home to family in Guatemala. “Ramírez´s parents want to see their children’s bodies,” Moreno said. “What we want is to send them back to Guatemala. That’s why we collected money during the novenas and also at Gofundme.com.”
Others stepped up to help them send the young people home. Father O’Brien opened an account at Trustmark Bank for donations to help, and he gathered enough money to send Martina and Faustino home.
“We had the funeral in our church for the two adults and the unborn. Their bodies will be sent to Guatemala,” Father O’Brien said. “There was a lot of help from all over Mississippi and other places in the U.S. People from our Anglo American, African American, and Hispanic communities helped, and we also had help from other churches.”