Just as her star was on the rise, the singer known simply as Selena was tragically murdered and fans are still mourning the loss of the young star two decades later.
On March 31, 1995 the life of the promising young pop star ended. The Texas-born beauty Selena Quintanilla captured people’s hearts with her style, sex appeal and instantly recognizable voice.
The queen of Tejano music, a fusion of polka, country and jazz, was popular across northern Mexico and throughout the southern United States. She never had the chance to expand her stardom to other areas of the world, because she was gunned down in cold blood at the age of only 23.
But what actually happened?
The start of a fan club
Yolanda Saldivar, a fellow Latina and keen Tejano music fan became obsessed with the young singer after seeing her perform live. She had reportedly turned her apartment into a “shrine” devoted to Selena and got closer to the singer after speaking to her parents asking to start a fan club.
Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla agreed and named Saldivar the president of the club, but would later increase her involvement in Selena’s career.
She would later get a managerial position in Selena’s chain of boutique stores, Selena Etc. While the woman was popular with her family, things began to sour after money started to go missing.
After receiving complaints from fan club members, customers and staff of the two store locations, Abraham tallied the books and discovered that $30,000 was unaccounted for.
“My daughter Selena was killed this morning by a disgruntled employee,” her distraught father told reporters. “There were discrepancies with the fan club, and they resulted in the shooting of Selena.”
She set a trap
Saldivar denied any wrongdoing when she was interviewed about stealing from the family. According to the New York Times, she had put a $100 deposit down on a handgun just two days after being confronted about the missing money.
Selena agreed to meet Saldivar in person at the Days Inn motel in the singer’s hometown of Corpus Christi so that she could explain herself face to face. However, when she learned that the singer had intended to fire her at their meeting, she pulled the gun from her purse.
Shot in the back as she fled the room, Selena ran away from the assailant. The bullet had penetrated just below the right shoulder blade and severed a vital artery, but still she carried on running. She made it to the hotel lobby to be able to name the culprit before collapsing in front of the desk.
Shawna Vela was the Days Inn receptionist and described the trail of blood hundreds of feet long behind the songstress.
“She shot me. She’s in room 158. Lock the door or she’ll shoot me again,” Selena screamed at the receptionist. The last words the singer uttered before losing consciousness was “Yolanda.”
If saying her name wasn’t enough, Selena had collapsed holding a diamond ring that was a gift to her from Saldivar.
Authorities later deduced that Selena had been in the process of giving the ring back, when the disgruntled employee opened fire on her.
After the shooting, Saldivar tried to escape to her car, but was boxed into the parking lot by police. The suspect then turned her weapon on herself and threatened to commit suicide. This resulted in a standoff with police that lasted almost 10 hours.
The shooter sat at the wheel of a red pickup truck she had borrowed from her nephew with her gun to his temple as officers tried to talk her into surrendering. When they finally convinced her to put the gun down and step out of the car, a huge crowd had accumulated across the street after hearing about the singer’s untimely death.
Saldivar claimed it was an accident
During the 10 hour standoff in the Days Inn parking lot, Saldivar explained her version of what happened in room 158. She said that she accidentally fired on Selena because she was inexperienced with a firearm. She claimed that she was the one who told Selena that she was bringing their working relationship to an end and the singer threw herself at the woman’s feet.
“It’s over Selena, I can’t work for you no more,” she claimed to have said in reply. “She went down, she grabbed my feet, and told me not to leave her,” Saldivar continued, “and when she was walking to the door, she was going at an angle. I told her, ‘Don’t close the door.’ And in that instant, the gun went off.”
The trial was a big deal
Selena’s story rocked the mid-90s and if it wasn’t for the trial of O.J. Simpson that same year, Selena’s shooting would have been the biggest story of 1995.
“Though it is too soon for another trial of the century, more than 80 news organizations are set to cover the trial,” Newsweek reported at the time. “Judge Mike Westergren, though, has denied Court TV’s request to air the trial.”
Fans were up in arms about the decision to keep the proceedings private, and in order to pursue a fair trial the judge moved it away from Selena’s hometown.
Selena’s funeral, however, was broadcast by news stations around the world. The family even chose to have an open casket to dispel rumors that the whole event had been staged. After her funeral, there wasn’t a town that didn’t know what happened.
The jury didn’t buy it
Arresting officers neglected to include Saldivar’s story in their official statement during her arrest, and it almost blew up in their face.
Confession or not, the jury didn’t buy Saldivar’s story about the gun accidentally going off.
During the trial Saldivar’s lawyers called a total of five witnesses, including three motel staff members, a policeman and Saldivar’s seventh-grade teacher, while prosecution called 33 who presented 120 exhibits to the jury.
The jury ended up finding the defendant guilty of murder in less than two hours of deliberation.
The death penalty was off the table for the convicted, because the killing lacked the aggravating circumstances of a capital crime. Instead she was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 30 years.
Working on her appeal
Not eligible for parole until 2025, and there are rumors that the convicted has been working hard on a new angle of appeal with plans to represent herself.
Was Selena pregnant?
In 2016, Saldivar gave a rare TV interview from jail, elaborating on her part of the story, including a fact that had been dismissed as a rumor. The singer’s killer claimed that she promised Selena that she wouldn’t tell, but she had overheard her mention to a friend that she was pregnant.
“People that don’t want to know the personal life of Selena, and only care about the celebrity aspect, are not doing her any justice,” Saldivar told RTS (via Vivala), “because she suffered a lot.”
This was news to Selena’s husband, Chris Perez.
The Grammy Award-winning rocker has always dismissed claims that his wife was pregnant at the time of her death and the constant rumors about her private life were becoming increasingly frustrating to him.
“There were some things that were just ridiculous,” he said. “What bothered me is that they said it like it was so matter of fact, like, I know this is true. And it really p***** me off.”
Disney is making a TV show about the murder
With the true crime genre spiking in popularity thanks to series like Making a Murderer, Disney has been keen to muscle in the action and is making a series about Selena’s life and death. Her family is less than pleased with this, however.
The show will be based on Selena’s Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death written by journalist María Celeste Arrarás. Selena’s sister refers to the account as “full of crap”, stating that the book is based on several lies. The reporter defends her work, saying that stories from her sources were much different than what the family was saying after the murder.
“It turns out that in the months prior to her death, Selena was not as happy as many thought,” Arrarás said. “She was living through a tumultuous moment, since she was surrounded by people that loved her but that wanted to manipulate her.”
Jennifer Lopez played her in a biopic
Two years after the murder, rising star Jennifer Lopez was cast as the Tejano queen herself in the movie biopic, Selena. The piece reflects on the late star’s relationship with her family and her rise to fame, rather than the murder.
The movie was praised by both critics and fans. “What makes this movie work is Jennifer Lopez’s electric performance as Selena, capturing the charismatic aspects of Selena’s stage persona and the essence of her maturity as a growing woman.”
20 years later, the role proved to be a turning point in J. Lo’s career.
“This amazing, beautiful spirit, full of joy and music and so much feeling, just was cut off in the middle of being,” Lopez told Billboard. “She had a sense of living in the moment, living in the present and following her heart. For me, that was the biggest lesson.”
She is still being remembered
Despite her untimely death nearly 25 years ago, Selena’s influence is still strong. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just last year.
ABC has also given a pilot commitment to do a series inspired by Selena. While the project is currently untitled, it will focus on an award-winning pop star who is estranged from her family.
The show will be produced by the Quintanilla family members, including Selena’s father, and sister Suzette Quintanilla Arriaga. Rico Martinez will also be the executive producer.
“We are thrilled to team up with Campanario and ABC Studios and highlight the complexities and family dynamics of a Latin pop superstar coming to grips with the reality of her influence especially in today’s social climate,” said music producer and SB Projects founder Scooter Braun said in a statement.
No air date is scheduled for the project yet.
Will you watch the new show when it comes out?