I awoke to a very familiar sound. It was that little thump that I’ve grown so very accustomed to; the sound of my four-year-old daughter’s little feet hitting the floor as she slides out of bed. On this day that sound brings a smile to my face. I am not a morning person, however, my daughter is and this morning she will be even more bright and cheery than usual. Today is Christmas, December 25th, 2013. The pitter-patter of those little feet grows louder as my daughter runs into our room. I smile and tense up just slightly knowing that she is about to jump into bed with me and my wife. Her bright eyes, giant smile and big out-of-control bed-head make my grin grow wider.
“Did Santa come last night?” she asks.
“We have to wait for your brother to wake up and then we’ll check,” I reply.
She climbs under the covers and nestles in as I yawn and stretch, still tired from all of the Christmas Eve festivities. I’m fortunate this year to have been off last night and today, but I lean over and grab my department issued Blackberry and start to check my emails. I typically receive an email and numerous updates for each shooting, homicide or major event that has occurred across the city. As I scroll through looking for anything that may have happened overnight in my area of responsibility, one catches my eye. My fellow officers have responded to a call of a homicide on the 2500 block of North Kildare in the city’s Hermosa neighborhood. Upon arrival they have apparently discovered a dismembered body in the basement. I put down my Blackberry and think to myself, there will be a story behind this one.
The previous evening, Christmas Eve, was spent rushing from one family party to another. My four-year-old twins were dressed in their best duds and stayed busy playing with their cousins, many of whom they haven’t seen since last Christmas. My wife and I kept busy chatting and catching up with family we see far too infrequently. After watching a play given by the kids in the family, complete with an emcee, makeshift costumes and a song from the recently released movie “Frozen”, we pack them back into the car and head to the next family party. The snow is falling and the roads are getting more and more slippery, but we can’t be late. We’ve heard that Santa Claus is coming and we can’t miss him. It was another party with plentiful food, good cheer and a couple of presents from Santa just to whet the kids’ appetites. As the evening came to a close, we hustled home, put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. We put the kids to bed and began bringing presents up from the basement and placing them under the tree. By the time we made it to bed we were exhausted.
About eight miles southeast, Alex Valdez was slowly becoming exhausted as well, but for very different reasons.
About six months prior, eighteen-year-old Alex Valdez moved into the basement apartment on the 2500 block of North Kildare with his aunt and her boyfriend, Sylvestri Diaz. Alex was to keep a job and contribute to the household expenses; however, he had recently stopped working and was asked to move out. The tensions came to a culmination on Christmas Eve while Alex’s aunt was away at a holiday party. Alex sat in the basement apartment drinking beer and becoming increasingly angry as the thoughts of the impending eviction loomed in his head. At some point Sylvestri Diaz came home to the apartment and had Alex accompany him to the liquor store to buy more beer, but not before Alex hid a hammer by the front door.
Upon returning from the store, Alex retrieved the hammer and smashed Sylvestri in the head several times until he was dead. But the brutality had just begun. Alex cut off Sylvestri’s head and arms with a saw and used a butcher knife to slice off the ears, nose and mouth. The chest of this dismembered body was sliced open from neck to pelvis. The eyes were gouged from their sockets with Alex’s bare hands. The head, ears and nose were left on his aunt’s bed, a “Christmas present,” according to Alex Diaz. After becoming physically drained from this mutilation, Alex called 911 to report a dead body. When asked if he had tried CPR, Alex simply laughed and told the 911 operator that his victim had been decapitated. Responding officers arrived and found Alex Diaz outside covered in blood. Diaz admitted to his crime, was placed in custody and directed officers to a horrific Christmas morning crime scene.
Details of this crime slowly came to light throughout Christmas day. I was again with my family at another two holiday parties, but with each news update my thoughts returned to the officers who responded and made the gruesome Christmas morning discovery. As I was surrounded by family and close friends I wondered how these officers were coping with their holiday. Did they stop at a bar on the way home to clear their heads? Will their families even know where they have just come from and what they’ve just seen? Will they talk about it or lock it away until it disappears? Will they contemplate man’s inhumanity and the vicious death they had just witnessed or will they focus on the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and the promised salvation and everlasting life to come? Whatever their response, I pray for them to recover quickly, move forward and cherish and embrace their loved ones on this Christmas Day and every Christmas Day to come. I grab my son and daughter as they scurry by, to give them an extra hug, but they squirm loose; they have new toys to explore.
Life goes on… in two different worlds.