Norma Lopez was a 17-year-old girl who had a bright future ahead of her. She was a student at Valley View High School in Moreno Valley, California, where she attended summer classes and enjoyed hanging out with her friends and sister. She was described by her family and teachers as a cheerful, friendly, and smart young lady who loved dancing and drawing.
But on July 15, 2010, her life was cut short in a brutal and senseless crime that shocked the community and remained unsolved for years. Norma Lopez was kidnapped, killed, and dumped in a field, leaving behind a trail of clues and questions that haunted her loved ones and investigators.
## The Disappearance of Norma Lopez
On that fateful day, Norma Lopez was walking home from summer school with her boyfriend and another friend. They parted ways at Cottonwood Avenue and Dracaea Avenue, where Norma usually met her sister and other friends at a nearby house. But that day, her sister was running late and Norma decided to walk alone.
She never made it to the house. Instead, she vanished without a trace, leaving behind only her school binder, purse, and a broken earring on the sidewalk. There were signs of a struggle and a tire mark on the dirt, indicating that she was abducted by someone in a vehicle.
Her sister and friends became worried when she did not show up and started looking for her. They found her belongings and called the police, who launched a massive search operation involving helicopters, dogs, and volunteers. Flyers with Norma's picture and description were distributed throughout the area, and a $35,000 reward was offered for any information leading to her whereabouts.
## The Discovery of Norma Lopez's Body
Five days later, on July 20, 2010, a man who was clearing brush in a remote field about three miles away from where Norma was last seen stumbled upon a horrific sight: the decomposed body of a young girl, partially covered by a palm tree. The body was later identified as Norma Lopez by her dental records.
The county's chief pathologist, Dr. Mark Fajardo, testified that he could only speculate as to exactly how the victim was killed, saying that "strangulation or asphyxiation" was likely[^1^]. He also said that there was no evidence of sexual assault, but that it could not be ruled out due to the advanced state of decomposition.
The discovery of Norma's body devastated her family and friends, who held a candlelight vigil and a funeral service for her. They demanded justice and answers, but the police had few leads and suspects. The case went cold for over a year, until a breakthrough came in September 2011.
## The Arrest and Conviction of Jesse Perez Torres
In September 2011, the police announced that they had arrested a suspect in connection with Norma's murder: Jesse Perez Torres, a 35-year-old welder from Long Beach, who had lived in Moreno Valley at the time of the crime. Torres was linked to the case by DNA evidence that was found on Norma's earring, which matched a sample that he had given after a domestic violence arrest in 2011.
The police also said that they had video footage that showed Torres' green SUV doing a U-turn after Norma had walked down the street where she disappeared. They believed that Torres had stalked Norma and waited for an opportunity to kidnap her when she was alone. They also said that Torres had moved back to Long Beach several weeks after the murder, and that he had a history of violence against women.
Torres was charged with first-degree murder and a special circumstance allegation of killing in the course of a kidnapping, which made him eligible for the death penalty. He pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence throughout the trial, which lasted for eight years due to challenges to evidence and changes in defense teams and prosecutors.
In March 2019, a jury convicted Torres of the murder and kidnapping charges, and recommended the death penalty. In December 2020, a judge sentenced Torres to death, calling his crime "disgusting" and "evil". Torres' attorney said that he would appeal the verdict and the sentence, and that his client was "not normal" and had mental health issues.
## The Legacy of Norma Lopez
Norma Lopez's murder case was one of the most notorious and tragic in the history of the Inland Empire, a region that encompasses Riverside and San Bernardino counties in Southern California. It sparked outrage, fear, and grief among the residents, especially the students and parents of Moreno Valley.
Norma's family and friends have kept her memory alive by holding annual vigils, creating scholarships, and advocating for victims' rights. They have also expressed their relief and gratitude for the conviction and sentencing of Torres, saying that they finally got justice and closure.
Norma Lopez's cause of death remains a mystery, but her life and legacy are not forgotten. She was a beautiful and talented girl who had a lot to offer to the world, and who touched many hearts with her smile and spirit. She is remembered as a daughter, a sister, a friend, and an angel.