All Martha Montoya’s daughter wanted for her 13th birthday was for her stepfather to move out.
It was a gift that Montoya died trying to give her.
Walter Ricardo Lopez Barrios, who Montoya’s two daughters said was “overly affectionate,” awakened Montoya early on Aug. 20, the eve of her daughter’s big day. He killed the 56-year-old woman with a sledgehammer and a knife in the early morning attack, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Two weeks later, Lopez Barrios is in the county jail awaiting a Sept. 19 court appearance. Montoya’s teenage girls — whom The Palm Beach Post is not naming because they are minors — are with family members in Lake Worth.
Family members said the younger girl spends spare moments replaying 911 calls and reading news accounts about her mother’s futile, and final, attempt at making her stepfather leave. Her older sister, 16, can’t silence the memory of their mother’s screams.
“Mi niñas, mi niñas, mi niñas … ” My girls.
‘In love with being in love’
Monica Collins remembers her “wild girl” cousin Montoya rushing to Florida from Cali, Colombia, in the 1980s. Montoya spent the next few years traveling, and falling in and out of love, Collins said.
The free spirit eventually settled in Lake Worth, took a job at The Breakers and had two daughters.
To help pay the bills, Montoya rented part of her Lake Worth home and Lopez Barrios moved in a decade ago.
The tenant and Montoya started as friends, then the relationship grew romantic. They married in 2011.
Collins remembers the 37-year-old Guatemalan citizen as respectful and quiet, though the marriage wasn’t perfect.
Collins recalls Lopez Barrios stranding Montoya and her daughters on the side of a road after an argument.
But Montoya didn’t give up.
“Martha was in love with being in love,” Collins said, “even if it turned out to be the wrong thing.”
A better life
Above romance, though, were her girls, and she was unwavering in her insistence that they’d have a better life.
They would be the first in the family to graduate from college, and they would go into the world debt-free.
Montoya started putting money toward that dream before the girls could talk, according to Michael Garrett, her co-worker at The Breakers. She worked at the Palm Beach resort for more than 23 years.
Her co-workers at the hotel are intent on finishing those payments and have raised more than $6,000.
Montoya’s oldest daughter, a high school junior, immerses herself in piles of homework from her honors classes. But her nights are restless, Collins said. When she wakes up, she’s unsure if her pillow is wet from sweat or tears.
Montoya’s family is busy sorting out the details of the girls’ lives — custody, housing, therapy — and other tasks that their mother would have done.
Her co-workers, too, are adjusting to life without Montoya’s motherly spirit, said Garrett, general manager of in-room dining at The Breakers. Montoya was the first to nurse her sniffly coworkers or to entertain young guests.
“A car crash, a heart attack stuff like that, that’s natural,” he said. “Something like this, there’s no wrapping your head around it.”
WANT TO HELP?
Those interested in contributing to the GoFundMe pages for Martha Montoya’s daughters can go to these addresses:
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