Some 500 friends, relatives, coworkers, and well-wishers turned out to Santa Barbara Cemetery Tuesday morning to bid farewell and lament the loss of Maleka Brinley-Higgins Pineda, one of six Goleta postal workers shot and killed last Monday by her former coworker, Jennifer Sanmarco. (A seventh victim, a former neighbor of the killer, was discovered last Wednesday.) At the funeral service, Pineda was remembered by all for her warmth and generosity. Sherie Higgins described her daughter as a victim of “racism and violence,” and urged those present, “Don’t let the violence in our society make you callous.”
Investigation into the killer’s background suggests Sanmarco may have been motivated in part by race. Only one of her seven victims was Caucasian; the six others were African-American, Asian, and Latino. While living in New Mexico the past two years, Sanmarco published a newsletter called Racist Times. The contents of that newsletter defy easy categorization, however, and are largely incomprehensible. Authorities have confirmed that during her assault on the Goleta annex, Sanmarco aimed her gun pointblank at two people she chose not to shoot; one of those spared was white, while the other was described by sheriff’s deputies as “dark-skinned.”
Maleka’s father, John Higgins, said of his loss, “She was my baby. She was always in my heart.” After singing a few verses of “Old Man River,” he added, “She was a good girl, an angel. But the Lord giveth and taketh away.” Twenty-eight at the time of her death, Maleka was married just less than a year to Pablo Pineda, a carpenter; together they had an eight-month-old daughter, Emily. After final words were spoken, songs sung, and prayers offered, Pablo Pineda sat in front of his wife’s grave with his head buried in his hands, his mother crying next to him. It was the fourth such funeral held since last week’s carnage. A community-wide memorial service for all victims will be held Sunday, February 12, at 2 p.m., at the UCSB Thunderdome.
The ongoing investigation by local and federal authorities yielded plenty of details but few clear answers about Jennifer Sanmarco. A search of her home in Grants, New Mexico last Thursday uncovered several personal writings expressing “extreme frustration” with the Goleta Postal Distribution Center, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, and a local medical facility where she was held involuntarily three years ago. The latter came as a result of a February 2003 incident at the Goleta annex; sheriff’s deputies were called to physically remove Sanmarco from the postal center because of her erratic and disturbed behavior. Sanmarco was taken to the hospital for a mental-health assessment and, after her release, was placed on medical leave from the Distribution Center. Also discovered at her New Mexico residence was a canceled check with the word “will” written in the memo line; authorities believe Sanmarco may have written a last will and testament in the days before the shooting, though they have yet to locate the document.
Authorities traced the semiautomatic Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun used by Sanmarco in her killing spree to Ace Pawn Shop in the Grants neighborhood of New Mexico, where store records showed she legally purchased the murder weapon for $325 in August 2005. Sanmarco bought 15 rounds of ammunition several days later from a separate pawn shop in Gallup, New Mexico. Reports from former neighbors in Grants indicate Sanmarco had an ex-husband who now lives in New York, but authorities have thus far been unable to contact him, although they have been able to reach some of her immediate family members. According to Santa Barbara sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Eric Raney, her family expressed their “shock and embarrassment” over the tragedy and added that they hoped the media would leave them alone.
While Raney refused to speculate on Sanmarco’s psychiatric history, he acknowledged that her autopsy toxicology results would return in the coming weeks and that Sanmarco’s medical records were currently under review. Raney added that Sheriff Jim Anderson is expected to speak at Sunday’s community memorial service.