Bill and Vee Arroyo know their daughter, Monica Anderson, wasn’t perfect. They just wish she was alive.
As the five year anniversary of Anderson’s March 13, 2010 murder approaches, the married couple, both ARC employees, are taking the slow and difficult steps to living their lives with the weight of loss on their shoulders.
Anderson, then 26, was killed that night by friend and former roommate Lan Anh Le, then 20, after a night of partying that included heavy alcohol and cocaine use. Le stabbed Anderson 91 times and is currently serving a 25 years-to-life sentence.
Bill, Anderson’s stepfather, was on his way to church that morning when he says he felt an overwhelming need to go back home to Vee. He joined her on a trip to drop off laundry to Anderson’s apartment.
“We went over there and came up on it as they were investigating the crime scene. To this day, we don’t know if the body was there when we were,” Bill said.
Added Vee, “I was walking up to the crime scene with Monica’s laundry in my hands, and they told me to stay behind the tape. I said, ‘You don’t understand, my daughter’s overslept, she’s going to be late for work.’ He said, ‘Who’s your daughter?’
“They thought I was going to die because I collapsed in the parking lot. My body was going into shock.”
Since then, every day has been a toss-up for how Bill and Vee will feel. How much they’ll think about their lost daughter, and whether or not those memories will make them smile or bring them to tears.
They both wonder how Le, someone they had known previously for a year, could commit such an atrocious crime.
According to Vee, knowing it was an act of impulse and not an accident weighs heavily on her mind.
“To know that somebody intentionally did that to your child, that’s what kills you inside,” she said.
Though they spent time with Le, from dinners at their house to Bill driving her to work a few times, the sad details of her life before Monica didn’t come to light until the trial, two and a half years after the murder.
Le was raised by Vietnamese refugees in a crowded, struggling home with 10 siblings. She seemed to have been getting her life together in a social program at 16, but aged out.
Le and Anderson met through mutual friends, and were living together when six months before the murder, Vee received a call from Anderson, saying that Le had attacked her, giving her a black eye and a bruised arm.
“The police said they’d submit paperwork to the district attorney to see if they would press charges, but nothing ever came of that,” said Vee. “(Six) months later, Monica’s dead. And they ask, do you feel that justice was served? No, I don’t.”
Vee and Bill had two wait two and a half years for the murder trial against Le to begin. When the details began to be presented, they were forced to live through the worst day of their life all over again.
Though Vee communicated with Le’s parents without incident, other members of Le’s family “made comments” toward Vee during the court proceedings, often in defense of Le. Grisly photos were shown of the crime scene.
For Bill, just being in the same room with the killer of his daughter was almost too much to bear.
“There was a moment in time where I wanted to grab her and take care of it myself,” he said. “But the Lord spoke to me, and said ‘Let me take care of this one Bill.’ Otherwise, I would have done it. (Monica) was my little girl.”
It’s been over two years now since Le was convicted. She’s serving her sentence in the California Institution for Women in Corona, California. And in Bill and Vee’s tidy home, few photos of their daughter are left out. Vee says they make her sad.
“I think about what her last few minutes were like,” she said. “Being stabbed, with her arms up pleading ‘Stop, stop.’
“And people say, ‘Well eventually, you have to move on.’ And I always think, ‘Would you trade places with me, and let me tell you that?’”
There are days where going to work is impossible. Casual conversation can easily turn into grief and confusion.
“People ask me sometimes how many children I have, and I don’t know how to answer that,” Vee said.
“I had two, I have one left, or do I still have two, and one’s in the ground? How do I answer that?”
There are happy memories though, of course. They remember how caring a person Anderson was, since she was a child.
Vee describes how in her youth, Anderson mowed her grandmother’s lawn for six months, earning money, only to spend it all on a gold necklace for Vee on Mother’s Day.
Vee wears that necklace every day now, and said it feels like carrying a piece of her daughter with her.
Anderson had just been promoted to manager at the O’Reilly Auto Parts store she worked. Her work uniforms are now teddy bears, made by Remember Me Bears, a non-profit group started by another grieving person who lost family.
It’s been a long, complicated road for both of them. Vee spent a long time ignoring her emotions, and blacking out from stress. They’ve been to support groups and seen therapists, but both know that recovering will take time.
“I look back and I’m surprised she’s alive,” said Bill.
“I see the pain, and the shatteredness of her heart, and I see God trying to mend it. I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, it may take a lifetime. But I’m not running from it.”