ELKO — Four years after Stephanie Gonzalez was killed, Lidia Cortes can’t shake off the feelings of guilt.
“I live with the guilt that I kind of gave up on my daughter,” Cortes said.
Those feelings are, in part, why she continues to push for domestic violence awareness — and for families not to give up.
Gonzalez was killed in her home on Garcia Lane in June 2011, according to Free Press archives. Her estranged husband, Eduardo Puentes Estrada, is accused of murdering her by strangulation. Cortes said her daughter was also a victim of domestic violence.
Estrada is currently in custody in a Mexican prison.
On Friday, organizations are kicking off the fifth memorial softball tournament in Gonzalez’s memory with an awareness event called “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.” The Partners Allied for Community Excellence Coalition’s Elko Hispanic Working Group is working with the White Ribbon Campaign to host the event at 3:30 p.m. at the Herrera Softball Complex. It is sponsored by Barrick Gold Corp.
“We’re asking men and young boys to participate and wear the high heels,” Cortes said.
The walk, which has previously taken place in Winnemucca and Battle Mountain, aims to raise awareness of domestic violence against women. Men are challenged to walk “a mile in her shoes” — and this time, almost literally. Friday’s walk will be 9/10s of a mile, while previous events have been only a quarter mile, Cortes said.
The general public is also invited to attend. Men are encouraged to bring their own high heels, but some will be available for them to use. Cortes said a member of her group will be wearing red stilettos.
“It’s kind of a fun twist to a serious (issue),” she said. “We want to bring awareness.”
According to a new Violence Policy Center study, Nevada ranked fifth in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men per 100,000. The study stated Nevada’s homicide rate of females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013 was 1.95 per 100,000. The national average rate was 1.09 per 100,000.
For Cortes, events such as the walk are her forum to bring up a “very tough subject.”
“I’m not giving up,” she said. “It’s too late for me to help my daughter, but if I can help somebody else’s daughter or granddaughter, they (domestic violence victims) would not have died in vain.”
Cortes would like to see a buddy system in place to help individuals. She also encourages families and friends of domestic violence victims not to give up hope.
“We’re here for them,” she said. “We can’t give up on them.”
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Two days before Gonzalez’s death, Cortes said she talked to her daughter about Estrada. Gonzalez was convinced he had moved on from the relationship, Cortes said.
“This cold gloom came over me like a blanket,” she said.
Cortes has been told that a neighbor had heard Gonzalez’s screams the day she was killed, but didn’t call 9-1-1 because he or she didn’t want to get involved. Cortes wants Elko residents to get involved and call the police if they feel something is wrong.
The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event starts at the softball complex and is free to attend. Water will be provided. The walk continues down Morena Way to College Avenue, down Chris Sheerin Way, in front of the museum and moving across to Sherman Station. Walkers will then strut their heels up 14th Street and make their way back to the softball complex.
The Stephanie’s Last at Bat Adult & Co-ed Softball Tournament is a three-day event beginning at 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. It has been held in Gonzalez’s memory since 2011 by the City of Elko Parks and Recreation department.
“Stephanie’s favorite color was pink, so everyone is requested to wear pink,” said Recreation Coordinator Jerod Linder.
The tournament registration had filled by Wednesday afternoon, with 22 teams from Nevada, Idaho and Utah. Linder said participation has been consistent each year. The $250 registration fee goes to the Parks and Recreation department.
Prizes for the winning team include a trophy and the team’s name on the annual trophy, as well as T-shirts, he said. The second-place team also gets T-shirts.
Gonzalez’s family will begin the tournament with the first pitch, Linder said. The tournament continues on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 8 a.m.
Cortez will be selling beer and bracelets at the event, she said. In the past, these proceeds went for reward money for information leading to Estrada’s capture — up until October 2014, he remained at large. The $28,800 raised over three years then went to the FBI, which will take care of it so the recipient remains anonymous, Cortes said.
This year, the money from her sales will go toward a scholarship fund in Gonzalez’s memory. Cortes said she has one stipulation for future recipients.
“I want it to be used at Great Basin College,” she said.
Cortes, who was born and raised in Elko, attended GBC as a single parent years ago. She received Pell grants and wants to pay it forward.
“I’m very big on education,” she said.
Scholarship applicants will need to write an essay. Cortes is hoping to have the application ready by January.
Cortes’ goal is to have Friday’s walk be the first of many to come in future years. She would eventually like to raise funds at the memorial tournament for a charity or organization, such as Head Start.