One family still hopes, another grieves in cases of missing women
September 12, 2012By Elizabeth Fiedler
Video by Kimberly Paynter
The family of a missing North Philadelphia woman is working hard to keep her disappearance from fading into the past.
It's been almost six months since anyone saw Franchesca Alvarado. Her family is dealing with the pain with the help of another family with a similar story.
Alvarado's sister Alma Rios says her family has grown used to waiting for news of her sister, 22, who was last seen on March 13.
"She went to Atlantic City March 17 with a male friend from Philadelphia, and never returned," said Rios. "It's been an emotional roller-coaster."
Sitting in a grieving center she helps run -- next to the funeral home where she is employed -- Rios says she believes Philadelphia police have done a good job. Still, she says, it's hard not knowing what happened.
Rios, who helped create this grieving center for the community, says her own family gathers here to talk about her sister's case. Rios believes her sister's background may have kept her disappearance from getting more attention.
"She lived in the Hunting Park area. And it's an area where certain people would be intimidated to be in if they're not from around there," Rios said. "And I think that because of the crime rate in this community, I think people think that it's just the norm for an inner city girl like my sister to be missing.
"Perhaps she's just got involved with some wrong people and is hanging out with them, perhaps?" she says.
Support from another grieving family
Rios says Alvarado never would have left behind her 3-year-old daughter. While it's been a very difficult time, Rios says her family's been getting support from the family of another young Philadelphia mother who went missing recently.
"A couple weeks after my sister went missing, Melanie Colon went missing and the cases were very similar. They found Melanie dead," Rios said. "We have kind of similar cases. Melanie was 22 years old, they were both from the same area, they knew a lot of mutual friends, we're both Spanish."
Rios says when her family holds vigils and other events to honor her missing sister, Melanie Colon's family comes out too.
She says the families are supporting each other -- as one grieves and the other continues to search.
Standing on a nearby street corner, Melanie Colon's brother Ralphie says the two families have a special relationship.
"Emotions. Emotions, emotions, emotions," he said. "I look at her family and I see my family."
Colon says he's tried to bring attention to his sister's murder.
"She was found shot to death in Juniata Park -- right down the block from here, actually a couple blocks down -- she went missing on May 8 of this year. The guy she left with -- he's nowhere to be found still.
"I made the Facebook page for Melanie so we can find who killed her," said her brother.
Like Franchesca Alvarado's family, Colon says his family is helping his sister's young son deal with her absence.
"He gets sad. He just started school and that was hard for my family because Melanie was supposed to be there," Colon said. "How are we supposed to tell a child his mother was murdered? How are we supposed to tell him she was shot six times?"
Excruciating wait for answers
Colon says he believes the police are trying to find out what happened to his sister.
"But the 12th it's going to be four months that she's been dead and I just be so hurt talkin' about it. I just want someone to find something out because it's wrong. It's wrong what people have to go through . . . they don't even have a body."
"We found my sister. They don't even have nothing. I love them and I look up to them so much because they have so much faith," he said.
Alvarado's sister Christina Diori says her family's not giving up ... and she has an idea why the case hasn't gotten more attention.
"The media made errors. They said someone had told them that she was an escort. I had to contact them so they could fix that," Diori said. "I think that's another reason why we didn't get the media attention we were supposed to get for Franchesca."
Sitting in the grieving center, Diori says she still expects her sister will return. She says the family's contacted national TV shows about the case -- to no avail.
"Somebody out there knows something and we even have a reward," she said. "All we care about is getting Franchesca back home."
For Alvarado's family, the wait continues.