MONTEVIDEO — On the 13th of every month, always from 8:45 to 9:33 in the evening, Robin Paradee Savoy will light a candle, listen to music and remember her daughter, Vinessa Lozano.
Unless the weather is miserable, Savoy’s vigil takes place in the Sunset Memorial Cemetery in Montevideo, where she buried her daughter three years ago.
Lozano, 18, had walked out of the Pizza Ranch restaurant in Montevideo around 8:45 p.m. Jan. 13, 2012. She was trailed by a co-worker who ambushed her for rejecting his interest in her. Darek Nelson inflicted 35 stab wounds with a large knife as Lozano fought hard for her life. She was pronounced dead at 9:33 p.m.
“I would have given my heart if they would have taken it to give it her that night,’’ said her mother.
Nelson, 27, is serving a life sentence without parole at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater.
Three years after her daughter’s brutal murder, Savoy said the pain that she and her four sons continue to experience is also a life sentence.
“I live in a prison which is my own being and I did nothing to deserve this,’’ she said.
She sees a therapist and relies on medications for anxiety and depression due to the mental anguish the murder has brought her.
“Does it take the pain away? Never. Never. It just helps you cope with being a person,’’ Savoy said.
Her sons know the pain, too. She said two suffer their own depression. Their grades in school have fallen. One has gotten into trouble with the law.
Vinessa’s father and Savoy separated when their daughter was a young girl. He lives in southern Minnesota.
Home life is not the same absent Vinessa. “It just seems like you’re trying to build that wall back up in your home so it doesn’t teeter but it’s just not working very good. The materials you have aren’t fitting properly enough to stay safe,’’ Savoy said.
She said Vinessa was her only daughter and more: A true friend and soulmate. “She was my true rock in life that got me through hard times. The one person I could rely on,’’ she said.
Others have helped. Savoy said she cannot say enough about how the community of Montevideo helped her family in the aftermath of the death, and how it continues to help.
She also finds help by participating in Compassionate Friends support groups based in Willmar and Marshall. Its members have lost loved ones in tragic ways as well, including suicide and drunken driving. She found an instant bond with others who understand the loss she feels, Savoy said.
She wants people to remember her daughter as the loving and caring person she was. Vinessa became a mother while in high school, yet cared for her son and earned her diploma. She and her son’s father were planning to marry at the time of her death.
Vinessa was working two jobs and taking classes toward a goal of a career in nursing.
She befriended Nelson, a quiet man whose court records would later show had been obsessed with her and could not handle the rejection. He began plotting five days before the night he came to work with a large hunting knife hidden in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt.
As a mother, Savoy said it torments her that she could not have protected her daughter. She knows that no one could have suspected what was to happen.
It troubles her, too, that she could not get to the side of her daughter as she was dying, if only to tell her it was OK to let go.
“I think that would have helped me, instead of being robbed of your final goodbye,’’ Savoy said.
The family has created a memorial scholarship in Vinessa’s name for Montevideo High School graduates going on to careers in health care. They adopted a portion of Minnesota 7 on the east side of Montevideo to remember her, as well.
Savoy said there is anger in her life where there never had been. Once outgoing, she now has a fear of going outside of her home.
“This completely crushes a person inside and out,’’ she said.
Savoy said that she knows she is too hard on herself, that her daughter’s death isn’t her fault. She just can’t shake the idea that somehow she had let her daughter down.
“(The prosecuting attorney in the murder trial) said to me ‘the only thing you did wrong, Robin, is you raised a really good kid. Very loving and very caring.’”
Vinessa was overly caring amd would do anything for anybody, Savoy said. “There aren’t a lot of people like that out there in the world,’’ she said.
There is one less today, and that’s why Savoy said she will continue to remember her daughter daily and with a vigil on the 13th of every month for the rest of her life.