Against boarded up windows and smoke-stained white bricks rests the memorial for Karen Perez. Candles, crosses and Bible verses and a flurry of pink and red flowers decorate the ground. Stuffed bears are tucked in the branches of two trees, serving almost as pillars framing the memorial site. And what appears to be Perez’s quinceañera photo is nailed to the boarded window — the surrounding messages of love and flowery tributes contrast eerily with the deteriorated building and what happened inside.
In May, Perez’s teen boyfriend brutally raped and murdered her in one of the vacant apartments, prosecutors allege. Though the South Houston Police Department claimed they searched the abandoned lot and failed to find her body, a Texas Equusearch crew found Perez stuffed underneath a kitchen sink.
The boyfriend’s cellphone records would later prove he had threatened to kill Perez if she did not skip school with him to have sex with him that day. He recorded nearly the entire attack on his phone, as Perez pleaded with him, saying, “I don’t want to die.” (He reportedly admitted to the murder after the records surfaced).
Now, after Perez’s family and community members have demanded the vacant lot be demolished, Perez’s mother, Rocio Perez, is suing the apartment building’s owner, 1600 Avenue M LLC, claiming that, had they taken reasonable precautions to secure and monitor the building, her daughter would still be alive today. Since it’s directly across from South High School, where Perez was a freshman, attorneys argue that the owners’ lack of precautions were grossly negligent, and they should have reasonably anticipated teenagers and other trespassers partaking in dangerous criminal activity as a result.