Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Not Lost Forever: New book details little girl's murder survival and search for answers

Twenty years ago, I was working for the Marin County (Calif.) Independent Journal, the local paper in America's chicest -- and most expensive -- county. So with a new son in the house, we lived a more frugal life a half-hour north, in the quiet chicken-farming town of Petaluma, where my own world had shrunk to raising two children.

Then the news broke that just up the road from my house, just a few miles from my own daughter's kindergarten, the bloody bodies of three little girls were found in the county dump, their throats slashed. But one, little 3-year-old Carmina, was clinging to life ... and the unfolding news was pointing to a disturbing suspect: the little girls' own father.

Steve Jackson's latest true crime book, Not Lost Forever ($25.99, HarperCollins), co-authored with Carmina Salcido officially hits the bookstores today (Oct. 6). The publisher describes it this way: "It is a remarkable story of survival and healing after the 1989 murderous rampage by Carmina's father, Mexican vineyard worker Ramon Salcido in the wine country of Sonoma Valley, California. Left for dead at three years old — her throat brutally slashed — Carmina miraculously survived what is widely considered one of California’s most notorious crimes: the unthinkable attack that savagely destroyed seven innocent lives, including her entire family. At once a harrowing true crime story and the inspirational first-person account of a young girl’s strength, heart, and determination in the nightmare’s aftermath, Not Lost Forever is a shocking and profoundly moving tale of perseverance and hope, and of a precious life regained."

Question: What was different about the style of storytelling in Not Lost Forever?
Answer: Well, Carmina (pictured lower left) was three years old when her family was murdered by her father and she was left for dead with her throat cut. So while her recollections of that morning are extremely vivid, and amazingly accurate when compared to the evidence and what the police believe happened, they are still the 20-year-old memories of a traumatic childhood tragedy.

As such, she had no idea of what was going on around her: the search for her father and his capture and subsequent trial; the massive national and international response to her incredible story of survival, which at the time made her "the most famous three-year-old in the world"; or the impact of the crimes on what to that point had been the sort of laid-back wine country atmosphere of Sonoma County in 1989.

Still, Carmina wanted to tell her part of the story in the first person, which necessitated what I consider a hybrid of first-person memoir with dramatic narrative for passages such as the hunt for her father, Ramon Salcido, and his trial.

There is also some "as told to" sections from my time spent with her traveling to the crime scenes and reflecting on the past in which as the writer, I felt my observations were important to the story, too. Obviously, as she grew older, her memories of the bizarre life she was subjected to AFTER the murders was much fuller and so the first-person aspect is more dominant. We'll see if I was able to achieve a decent blend -- sticking with the wine country metaphor, perhaps something of a cabernet-merlot mix.

Q: How did you fill in the blanks around Carmina's memories?
A. Fortunately, one aspect of Carmina's return to Sonoma (photo courtesy of the Sonoma Index-Tribune) when she was 19 years old was a quest to learn the truth about her family and what had happened in April 1989. So she did quite a bit of digging on her own, looking at library clips and talking to people who had known her mother and father.

She was greatly aided in this by Capt. Mike Brown (Ret.) who had been the detective sergeant in charge of the homicide investigation team that day. He patiently answered her questions, and also helped her with her research, including gaining access to the police, district attorney and court files, which of course contained much more information than what the newspapers had written.

So Carmina actually knew a lot of the story and was able to relate it to me in her own words and in context with her memories. And once again, Mike Brown was invaluable to me as well in regards to filling in those blanks from a dedicated police detective's point of view.

Q: Seven murders, including the brutal slaying of four young girls, two of whom were likely sexually molested, as well as the attempted murder of Carmina ... it seems like a pretty dark story.
A: The depravity of Ramon Salcido is without question. He murdered his entire family and a co-worker in a vicious but calculated manner with plenty of time between murder scenes to consider what he had done and stop himself.

This wasn't one incident, it was four with significant distance between each episode and location. He continues to deny his culpability -- blaming it all on alcohol drugs and untrue allegations about his wife's fidelity -- and has beaten the system and remained alive on Death Row at San Quentin for 20 years.

So yes, if this was the standard fare of a truly heinous crime and then the machinations of justice, it would indeed be a dark tale with very little light with the exception of the work of the detectives working the case and prosecutor who sent Ramon Salcido to Death Row. However, I see it as Carmina's story -- a story about her courage and strength and, for lack of a better term, her indomitable spirit to overcome not just what her father did, but the misery of her life afterward without giving up, and then her quest to learn the truth and finally to confront the man who had done his best to destroy her and everything she cared about.

That she still laughs with such delight and looks forward to life like any young woman who had not been through what she has, is truly inspirational to me. I think anyone who is deal with the aftermath of a crime, or just having a rough ride through life, who reads this book has to come away thinking "I don't have it so bad. If she can overcome that, I can deal with what I have to as well."

Q. I understand that ABC's 20/20 news magazine will be doing a feature on Carmina and the book?
A. Yes, it's due to air on Oct. 16 (check local listings for time). Originally, they planned a half-hour segment to run on Oct. 9, but the producers apparently felt that the story warranted a full hour so it was pushed back a week. I have no idea how they approached the story -- there were several avenues, we chose to write the book as semi-autobiographical (is that even a term or am I making it up?) I do know that viewers will get a good feel for Carmina now, as well as Mike Brown, who once again, though reluctantly (he does it for her), figures prominently in the 20/20 story, too.

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1 comment:

gemini said...

i would like to read this beautiful story of survival.tnx for writing this.