Saturday, May 19, 2001 SECTION B

Los Angeles

Homage to a Life Cut Short

Tribute: College will give an honorary degree in slain student's name and show her art.


    The administrators at Occidental College in Los Angeles are among those who cannot forget Wendy Soltero.
    An honorary bachelor's degree in studio art will be presented in her name during graduation ceremonies Sunday. Her artwork, which consists of paintings, video, photographs and sketches, is on display at the college's Weingart Gallery.
    Relatives and friends created a nonprofit organization called WendyArts Foundation to help struggling artists.
    Soltero, who was a 22-year-old senior when she was fatally shot in Hollywood last October while doing a good deed for two stranded friends, had that kind of influence on people.
    Those who knew her describe Soltero as funny and quirky. She was the type of person who would buy a gigantic stuffed animal just to cheer up a friend. She might even pick up a set of plates so a friend upset by a failed relationship could blow off some steam by smashing them.
    She was also a talented sculptor, photographer, writer, singer and poet before she took up painting, said school officials, family and friends.
    Michael A. McDonald, the college's dean of students, said Soltero's death has been felt most intensely in the art and theater departments, where she took classes and performed, and at the college newspaper, where she was a photo editor.
    "It's sort of like, why should this ever have to happen to somebody that is 22 years old?" McDonald said.
    The last piece of work Soltero turned in just before she was killed showed an amazing talent, said her painting instructor and faculty advisor, Linda Besemer. The portrait of a friend is hanging above the fireplace at the gallery.
     "I think she really didn't understand she had a lot of talent," Besemer said. "A lot of student work looks like student work, but this just takes a life of its own."
     Several of Soltero's former professors and school administrators were in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this month during a pretrial hearing for her alleged killers. About 20 supporters showed up, including Soltero's parents, Gene and Elizabeth Soltero, who live in Dallas.
     For the first time, family and friends faced murder suspects Araceli Gonzalez, 19, of Compton, and Demetrio Cabrera, 31, of Los Angeles. At one point, Elizabeth Soltero and Gonzalez locked eyes briefly before the defendant quickly looked away. Soltero said later that she searched for a hint of compassion or regret in the woman's eyes but found none.
     "Nobody has a right to do this," she said. "As adults, we are supposed to outlive the children."
     Gonzalez and Cabrera, who are charged with first-degree murder, were arrested in the early morning hours after Soltero was shot. They were caught by police officers while in the middle of one of several alleged robbery attempts. Authorities say they believe Gonzalez shot Soltero once in the head.
     During the court hearing, Sezin Rajandran, one of the two friends who had called Soltero for a ride home from a nightclub, described how her friend died.
     Rajandran testified that shortly after 3 a.m. on Oct. 28, she, Soltero and another friend were talking in Soltero's parked car. Suddenly, a young woman with a gun walked up to Soltero's driver's side and demanded their wallets, Rajandran said.
     She nervously described how, as she was scrambling to get her purse from the floorboard of the car, she heard gunfire and saw that Soltero had been shot. Soltero's body slumped against Rajandran.
     Rajandran said that Gonzalez then yelled obscenities as she demanded the wallets. Terrified for their lives, the women complied. Gonzalez then allegedly got into a car and fled the scene with Cabrera.
     Deputy Dist. Atty. Gretchen Ford said prosecutors must decide whether to seek the death penalty for either of the defendants. The trial may begin later this year, Ford said.
     Whatever happens next, Soltero's sister, Karen, plans to keep her sister's memory alive.
     In recent weeks, she has kept information about Wendy posted at a small North Hollywood theater. A front-row seat is marked "Wendy's seat." A stuffed dog helps save the spot.
     Karen Soltero, 27, has played the part of Anna in a romantic comedy called "The Ultimate Milkshake," which ends its run today.
     The two-person play she co-produced has helped her deal with some of her grief. But the performance can be startling to anyone who knows that the actress' sister was slain only a few months ago. There are numerous references to death, caskets and immortality.
     Karen Soltero said the play has been only one way to commemorate Wendy. On what would have been her younger sister's 23rd birthday Jan. 12, Soltero and three friends decided to get tattoos that include the letter "W" in their designs.

Copyright, 2001, Los Angeles Times. Distributed with permission of All rights reserved.
Here is the story that ran in Dallas Monday May 21 about Wendy's graduation. 
Story: E-mail staff Metro
A degree of bereavement

Sister sits in for slain student at college commencement


By Tiara M. Ellis / The Dallas Morning News

Karen Soltero's parents let her name her sister, Wendy, when she was born in 1978.


Wendy Anne Soltero
Visit the Web site posted in her honor

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 that."

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 shooting.

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. Soltero said.

"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 in February.

"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 foundation.

"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,, 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 ordeal.

"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

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