Take The Long Way Home

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.

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