In the wake of Susana Robles Desgarennes’ death, allegedly at the hands of an abusive ex, her family is preparing to organize against domestic violence.
Paola Desgarennes, Susana’s 23-year-old sister, said that she, her mother and her brother are planning to form an advocacy organization to keep what they say happened to Susana from happening to anyone else. Meanwhile they are raising money to support Desgerennes’ four-year-old daughter.
The family made the announcement on Thursday night after a vigil on Rayburn Street in Dolores Heights where, last Saturday morning, police found Susana and 24-year-old Angel Raygoza — who, by Desgarennes’ family’s account, was the father of her four-year-old daughter and the man with whom she had, until recently, been in a relationship.
The family alleges that Raygoza had been abusive in the past. They believe that he shot Susana before turning the gun on himself. Now, they say they just want to forgive him and move on.
A member of Raygoza’s family rejected these allegations, calling them unsubstantiated.
Police have not issued an official statement on the case, but Police Chief Bill Scott told the Police Commission Wednesday night that officers believed the incident to be a murder-suicide and, while the investigation remains ongoing, they are not looking for any additional suspects.
After the vigil, Paola Desgarennes called for friends and family of victims to be there for anyone they suspect of being abused.
Ask if they are okay, or if they need a ride, she said. Tell them to “create a plan to be safe,” and offer to babysit or provide access to a car.
Domestic violence prevention and protection organizations like La Casa de las Madres encourage friends and loved ones of possible victims to listen and offer unconditional aid — even if the victim will not or cannot leave, as is often the case.
Susana Robles Desgarennes, 20, was reportedly on her way to freedom. Paola and a roommate had been sheltering her sister and young niece for the last two weeks of Susana’s life.
There was nowhere else for her to go, Paola said, and searching for help among the city’s stretched resources was unsuccessful.
“The high cost of housing and a lack of resources in San Francisco,” Paola said, made finding an apartment or other aid difficult.
Friends at the vigil agreed that domestic violence, along with gun violence, is an issue that needs addressing.
They remembered Susana as relentlessly optimistic.
“You could never tell she was having a bad day,” said a high school friend, Cecy Quintana. “She wanted to make everyone else happy.” Even complete strangers, she said, would get a compliment on their clothes or hair if Susana sensed something was wrong.
The two met in high school, where they hit it off, evenly matched for quirky zeal. When they spotted one another in busy school hallways, Quintana said, they would shout each others names across the halls for all to hear.
Their lockers were decorated with glitter and when Susana opened her locker, clothes, makeup — even a curling iron — would come tumbling out.
“I always thought she was gonna be a fashion designer, she can rock anything,” Quintana said talking about her friend.
Quintana remembered the time Susana came across a giant prop check, the kind organizations use when they win large grants. She took it home on the bus, basking in the congratulations from strangers.
“Imagine this little girl, she was no more than 4’11”, carrying this huge [check] on the bus, bumping into everyone,” Quintana said. “We definitely didn’t care what people thought.”
Desgarennes was ambitious, Quintana said, and having a child did nothing to sideline her plans — in fact, she finished high school early.
Before her death, she was starting the paperwork to open a makeup business, Mixi, that would hire young mothers to sell and apply makeup and, as Paola put it, “teach other women how to own their beauty.”
Meanwhile, she worked at Sephora and created video makeup tutorials online, all while also taking courses at City College in marketing.
These plans were cut short by domestic violence, Paola alleged.
“She made the best of everything.” Paola said. “With her, half of my heart is gone.”