POMPANO BEACH — Alissa Cabrera-Espaillat was a 17-year-old girl with big dreams living with her family in one of Pompano Beach’s motels off the turnpike, near the strip clubs, a homeless center and jail.
She found the place worrisome — telling her out-of-state, older sister she’d frequently here gunfire — but the family stayed because it was affordable, relatives said. Unaccepting of her situation, Cabrera-Espaillat pictured one day going on to law school and fighting for justice, horrified by the high-profile deaths of Black people such as Breonna Taylor.
Then tragedy befell Cabrera-Espaillat when a teen with a gun outside Room 123 opened fire, shooting through a window that had its curtains drawn and killing Cabrera-Espaillat as she leapt from her bed, according to her family and authorities.
She was not the intended target, rather, it was man named Bill.
All that her older sister could do was scream when she heard about the killing on Nov. 4. “No! Why her? Why her?”
“It’s very tough,” said Cabrera-Espaillat’s older sister, Jasmine Colon, of New Jersey. “It doesn’t feel real to us.”
Working to get by
When she wasn’t dreaming of becoming a lawyer, Cabrera-Espaillat also had considered becoming a doctor.
Her mother had dealt with mental illness, so Cabrera-Espaillat thought she could one day tend to patients who were afflicted like her mother, her family said.
The family had been staying in cheap motels paid for with Cabrera-Espaillat’s mother’s monthly disability payments.
For the past half-year, they were living at the Pompano Beach Travelodge. There, Cabrera-Espaillat had shared a bed with her twin, Aliza. And her mom and stepdad were just an arm’s reach away. “She used to tell me it stressed her out.”
Cabrera-Espaillat and her twin both slung burgers and fries at Burger King and used that money to help the family get by.
“They did what they could to manage without getting any help from family,” Colon said.
Colon said she last spoke to her sister about four hours before she was killed. She said her sister sent her a silly video and they laughed on the phone about calling it a night about 10:30 p.m.
“That was the one phone call when I didn’t say, ‘I love you,’” Colon said.
A deadly encounter
Before the killing, there was loud banging on Room 123′s door in the middle of the night, records show.
Cabrera-Espaillat’s stepfather, Armando Gonzales, was roused from his sleep and looked through the peephole. A hand was covering it.
Surveillance video obtained by the Sheriff’s Office appeared to show how the crime unfolded: Gonzales opened the door ever so slightly to see who was there. It was a young woman looking for an unknown man named Bill.
Lurking outside was bare-chested teen, Deangelo Cincord, holding a gun and using his shirt to conceal his face, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
The woman, Jayla Leondra Patton, made hand gestures to Cincord as she tried to barge in, the Sheriff’s Office said. She was saying that Bill had been disrespectful to her grandmother and she wanted to confront him about it, even though there was no Bill in Room 123.
Gonzales overpowered her and slammed the door. Patton fell to the ground and that’s when Cincord opened fire on the window, according to a sheriff’s report.
Gonzales saw his stepdaughter crumpled to the floor. A bullet grazed her right shoulder and another one went through her left cheek at 1:52 a.m. The teen was pronounced dead at Broward Health North at 2:23 a.m.
The family had been longtime residents at the motel, a manager told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The motel had assisted the Sheriff’s Office by providing its surveillance footage, said the manager, who declined to give his full name.
On Saturday, Cabrera-Espaillat’s family said their final goodbye as she lay in an open casket at the La Paz Funeral Home in Miami Beach. She wore a black turtle neck and black-and-white checkered pants, an outfit she had agonized over and finally decided on for a date a few weeks ago.
The family paid extra to have the hole in Cabrera-Espaillat’s left cheek filled with clay.
They desperately wanted to see her looking like the buoyant teen who dreamed big and found joy in silly things just days earlier.
Cabrera-Espaillat’s twin sister stood over the casket and fussed with her twin’s wild red hair.
Cabrera-Espaillat was very particular about her hair and would often wear a hoodie to conceal herself if it wasn’t just right, he sister said.
Colon said she would tease her sister and say, “Who do you think you are? Beyoncé or something?”
The family, who have since moved to a hotel in Miami, think of Cabrera-Espaillat by picturing her working at Burger King or visiting a movie theater or playing basketball, Colon said.