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Sunday, July 29, 2012 - 23:40
SUNLAND PARK, NM — Friends and family celebrated what would have been the third birthday for an El Paso toddler who was allegedly killed by her step-mother last year.
Although baby Joanna is gone, the family doesn't want her memory forgotten.
Baby Joanna died just eight days before her second birthday after spending five days in the hospital fighting for her life.
The family released balloons into the air to honor Joanna Castillo.
Her father lit candles on what would have been her third birthday. A birthday he never imaged would be celebrated at her gave.
"We are going to celebrate it for her, though we wish she were here with us to celebrate it, but we just don't want her to be forgotten,” said Joanna’s cousin Estrellita Gomez.
Gomez says that as the months go by, living without Joanna doesn't get any easier.
"We relive it every day because there is certain emotions tied in that I have to deal with. All I can say is that I guess you learn to live with it, but you don't get over it,” said Gomez.
Gomez says when she first got word Joanna was in the hospital, she had a gut feeling Joanna had been harmed by her step mother. She now has a message to anyone else who ignores warning signs of abuse.
"Not to make the same mistake that I did and wait or second guess yourself. I would always try to say, no, it can't happen. It was too hard for me to believe. She was so beautiful, so sweet. It just wasn't possible to me. There are days that I tell myself that I wish she was old enough to talk for her to have told me who was hurting her, and things would have definitely been different now,” said Gomez.
The family hopes no other child has to suffer the same fate.
"Regardless of what she went through, and nobody knows what she went through but her and god. Regardless of what it was, she always had a smile on her face. She always giggled,” said Gomez.
Baby Joanna's stepmother, Maria Hernandez is charged with Capital Murder.
The family says no amount of justice will bring Joanna back.