A degree of bereavement
Sister sits in for slain student
at college commencement
By Tiara M. Ellis / The Dallas
Karen Soltero's parents let her name her sister,
Wendy, when she was born in 1978.
More than two decades later, Karen helped her
parents plan her sister's funeral after she was slain
in a robbery in October.
On Sunday, Karen, now 27, honored Wendy Soltero's
memory by accepting her slain sister's diploma from
Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Friends and relatives flew from across the country
for the graduation ceremony. The travelers included an
entourage from Dallas, where the sisters graduated
from The Hockaday School.
"Wendy was excited about finishing her
degree," said Beth Soltero, the sisters' mother.
"She just felt she really had it all together
this year. The diploma meant a great deal to Wendy. If
she is looking down on us, she will be happy about
Wendy Soltero was slain during a 40-minute robbery
spree in Hollywood on Oct. 28, said Los Angeles Deputy
District Attorney Gretchen Ford.
The college senior was at home carving a pumpkin
when a friend called to ask for a ride home because
she had been drinking, Mrs. Soltero said. Ms. Soltero
agreed to pick up the woman.
After her friend and another woman, who also needed
a ride, got into the car about 3:10 a.m., a young
woman approached the car on the driver's side, stuck a
gun in the window and demanded money, Ms. Ford said.
The women tried to comply, but the suspect shot Ms.
Soltero in the head, then reached across the art
student's body and grabbed the wallet of the woman
sitting in the passenger seat, Ms. Ford said.
During another robbery about 30 minutes later, Los
Angeles police apprehended a couple who matched the
description of the robbers involved in Wendy's
Aracelai Peña and Demetrio Cabrera are being held
without bail in Ms. Soltero's slaying and three other
robberies that occurred that night. Their arraignment
will be Monday.
"Karen lost her best friend, her soul mate and
her sister. And we lost half of our future," Mrs.
"She was a big artist," Karen Soltero
said. "Wendy was a painter, sculptor and actor.
She did everything."
Wendy Soltero's passion for art lives on through
the nonprofit WendyArts Foundation her sister created
"I wanted to do something in the arts in her
name to support all the different art forms she
loved," Karen Soltero said.
The foundation was created to benefit young artists
needing grants, scholarships and venues to display
their works, she said.
Half of the proceeds from The Ultimate Milkshake,
a play that Karen Soltero performed in and that was
dedicated to her sister's memory, will go toward the
"Wendy was a pretty incredible person,"
her sister said. "She was one of those people who
was so lively and did the nuttiest things."
She recalled that when one of her sister's friends
was depressed, she took marshmallow halves and stuck
them all over her car to cheer her up.
A photograph of the marshmallow-covered car is one
of the many pictures displayed on a Web site managed
by the sisters' father, Gene Soltero.
"It has been therapeutic," he said.
"I find solace and comfort in working on the Web
site, especially when the other kids tell their
stories" on the message board.
The Web site, http://soltero.org/wendy,
includes examples of her sculptures, photographs and
paintings, many of which were on display through
Sunday at her senior exhibit.
"One of the things that senior art majors do
is a comprehensive senior show of their work,"
said Mickey McDonald, dean of students at the private
liberal arts college. "We basically had Wendy's
exhibit as our last senior show."
Wendy Soltero was one of about 1,700 students at
Occidental College. She wrote and took photographs for
the school newspaper, participated in theater
productions and was a technical assistant in the
sculpture department, he said.
At the ceremony Sunday, Karen Soltero heard her
sister's name, walked to the president, hugged him and
accepted the diploma. Balloons were released in honor
of the slain student.
For Beth Soltero, hearing her dead daughter's name
called at the graduation ceremony means moving
forward, not seeking an end to her life-changing
"I've heard the word 'closure' a lot,"
she said. "I don't think there is closure. We are
just trying to do the things we can for Wendy. It's
learning to hopefully live with your life this way