Carmen Santiago

Carmen Santiago holds one of her favorite pictures of her daughter, Angelica. “She looks so glamorous in this photo,” Carmen said. Plenty of other photos of Angelica grace the walls of the home.

Two years seems like an eternity, especially when grieving for a life lost suddenly, too soon.

One Harker Heights mother, whose daughter was murdered almost two years ago when she was just 18, wants people to remember.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” said Carmen Santiago, Angelica Santiago’s mother.

A vigil for Angelica Santiago will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the second anniversary of her death, at Carl Levin Park in Harker Heights.

It will be the second vigil for Angelica. The first was in 2017 on what would have been her 20th birthday.

“It’s normally something small with family and friends, but we invite everyone who wants to come,” Carmen Santiago said.

Red will be the color of the night: It was Angelica’s favorite. “Everything was red,” Carmen Santiago said with a smile. “We’ll be releasing red balloons, and usually somebody will have a story to tell about Angelica.”

Carmen Santiago said “bubbly” is a word that pops to mind when she thinks of her daughter.

“She was a social butterfly; she could talk to anybody,” she said. “We always had her friends around the house. She was a good kid.”

Carmen Santiago said folks have told her she’s strong but the word doesn’t seem right.

“I don’t see it that way,” she said. “It’s not strength so much as it’s just not having any choice but to go on. I have these kids to look out for, especially Angelica’s son.”

It puts a small dent in Carmen Santiago’s pain knowing her daughter’s killer was convicted.

Matthew Scott Stoddard, who was Angelica Santiago’s boyfriend at the time, was convicted of murder June 21 and sentenced to 25 years in prison by Judge John Gauntt in the 27th Judicial District Court.

“I haven’t even really had a chance to sit down and grieve for her,” Carmen Santiago said.

The past few years have been a blur of funeral arrangements, planning the first vigil and tons of courtroom appearances.

“Now things are finally starting to settle down,” she said.

Stoddard initially told police that Angelica Santiago shot herself while he was in the bathroom, but further investigation by the Bell County district attorney’s office led officials to believe otherwise.

An autopsy report showed Angelica suffered two gunshot wounds and the death was ruled a homicide, according to Harker Heights police in a news release in March 2017.

Carmen Santiago said she feels some relief after Stoddard’s conviction, “but it’s nowhere near close to being enough time.”

“I don’t understand how someone can go to jail for life on drug charges and a murderer could get out in 12 and a half years,” she said. Stoddard is required to serve at least half of his sentence before being eligible for parole.

The trial did afford one moment of relief for the Santiago family.

“When the judge laid out what he did, and he said ‘Yes,’ it just stunned us because that was the first time we’d heard that,” Carmen Santiago said.

Santiago said the night Angelica was killed, she texted her mom about a fight going on, another fight in a string of physical and emotional abuse Angelica suffered at the hands of her boyfriend.

“She had her keys, wallet and phone; she was ready to go, but he wasn’t going to let her go,” Carmen Santiago said.

Anthony Falk, Angelica’s stepfather, is trying to move past his anger at the situation.

“It’s really hard because it’s so unfair. She should still be here.” Falk said. “It’s a joke that Stoddard wasn’t already in jail for beating her. It’s a joke that when he violated his probation he got more probation, and it’s a joke that he got a personal recognizance bond for murder. He had connections.”

Carmen Santiago said it’s still a struggle every day. “Now I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen,” she said. “But I still want to know why, and he’ll never tell so that’s aggravating.”

Angelica Santiago was about to graduate from high school and she had just landed a job she’d been wanting for years.

“She’d be a mom to her son, that’s for sure,” Carmen Santiago said. Angelica’s son is now 3 years old.

It’s not easy explaining to a child about a parent who has died.

“I tell him his mommy is in heaven and that she’s looking out for him and we’ll see her again someday,” Carmen Santiago said.

Once, Carmen Santiago said she pointed to a night sky replete with endless stars.

“Your mommy is up there,” she said to the boy. He pondered the stars for a minute. Then he said, “There are a lot of mommies up there.”

“I said, ‘Your mommy is the brightest one.’”

Emily Hilley-Sierzchula is reporter for the Killeen Daily Herald. Reach her at emilys@kdhnews.com

Herald reporter

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