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In the woods, in her memory
Family, friends walk to mourn woman slain while jogging

Monday, November 05, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Duaa Eldeib

A lone strip of yellow police tape wrapped around a thin tree blew in the biting wind near the lake in Sauk Trail Woods Forest Preserve where the body of 38-year-old Alma Mendez was found just days ago.
Elise Ziemann stood a short distance from that very tree Tuesday as she witnessed police pull out the body family members identified as the mother of three.
"I felt sad, and I cried, and I didn't even know her," Ziemann said.
Ziemann returned Sunday to the same spot with more than 50 family members, friends and strangers in a walk organized by Isabelle Simard to honor Mendez's memory.
Mendez, of Chicago Heights, went missing during a routine jog along the forest preserve trail Oct. 28. Her body was discovered with a slit throat, bruises and blunt trauma to the head, authorities said.
"Any time it's a woman who is close to your age, it makes your mortality a reality," Ziemann said.
For many who attended, the walk was a way of lending the family support and protesting senseless violence.
"We need a better world for our kids," said one Chicago Heights man who declined to be identified. "We can't ignore what's going on. We can't ignore violence and drugs."
Mendez had worked in a dental clinic in Steger with Alice Gately, who went to the walk with her sister.
"In memory of her, we decided to come out here and walk and miss her," said Gately, of Homewood. "She was always so kind and nice to everyone."
"We hope that the mystery gets solved," Gately added.
Sheriff's police are urging anyone with information on the homicide to to call (847) 635-1188.
Even people who didn't know Mendez, like Gloria Deleon, of Chicago Heights, felt connected enough to Mendez to walk in her name.
"We just wanted to show our support and try to make something good out of something bad," Deleon said.
Deleon's 7-year-old granddaughter Jade Deleon, of Steger, walked, as did Deleon's sister Irma, who drove 50 miles from the northwest suburbs to attend.
Deleon's golden retriever Mandy walked alongside them with a handwritten sign around her neck that read "I walk for Alma."
Joe Vega never met Mendez, but as a fellow runner, he felt as though he knew her. Vega said he used to run the trail for more than 25 years, but he stopped about six years ago when he said he noticed it becoming more dangerous.
"If I saw a girl alone, I'd stop her and say, 'Don't run by yourself,' " Vega said. "I think it's important that we give the family condolences from everybody."
The support was not lost on Javier Mendez, Alma's cousin, who fought back tears as the wind whipped his face.
"We want to thank all the volunteers who helped search for her and that came to the wake and the funeral," he said.
Javier Mendez expressed special gratitude to those who came to the walk and placed flowers as a reminder of a life lost.
"It means a lot to honor her and to be with her the last place she was at," he said.


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