As of Nov. 18th, 42 women have been murdered on the island so far this year.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The murder of community leader Nilda Álvarez Lugo has sparked indignation over the increasing numbers of women killed on the island in recent months.
The body of 64-year-old Álvarez Lugo was found on Nov. 13th by her partner, in the bedroom of her apartment on the 10th floor of the Balseiro Elderly Housing complex in Río Piedras, a neighborhood of San Juan. The activist suffered stab wounds to the face.
The murder motive remains unknown. The residential building has controlled access, and the door to the victim’s apartment was not forced open.
Álvarez was a beloved community leader in Río Piedras. Her artistic interests led her to become one of the managers of the Capicú Adentro community gallery, located in the Plaza del Mercado market square of Río Piedras. The activist was also part of the first group of students who graduated from the University of Puerto Rico School of Communication.
Social justice and feminism were her main areas of interest. In recent months, Álvarez posted a purple-tinted profile photo on social media with the phrase “I was born to be free, not murdered,” to denounce the insidious problem of femicide in Puerto Rico.
According to preliminary investigations, the police confirmed the attack was directed at the activist.
“It was a very deliberate murder,” Lieutenant Ángel Martínez of the San Juan homicide division told El Nuevo Día. Authorities are analyzing the building’s video cameras for other clues.
The police have not yet ruled out the possibility the murder may be a case of domestic violence. Álvarez had two restraining orders against her ex-husband. The police have not interviewed him because his whereabouts are unknown. Although he currently resides in Florida, authorities learned he stopped by his former wife’s apartment in 2018.
The activist had a two-and-a-half year relationship with her current partner José Ramón Fortuño, who found the body after calling her phone several times. He let himself into the apartment because he had keys.
At the crime scene, police found several of the murderer’s belongings: a sweater tied around the body and a cap. The police ruled out that the cap belonged to Fortuño.
Álvarez’s son, Omar Crespo, posted a message on Facebook about his mother, demanding justice.
“[She was] a woman who didn’t mess around with anyone,” Crespo said in his message. “Everyone in her building loved her. She was involved in activities that benefited everyone in the community—with no money in her bank account or luxuries in her apartment.”
During the past few months, activists and feminist groups have been urging Gov. Wanda Vázquez to declare a state of emergency in dealing with the situation.
Proyecto Matria, a nonprofit organization based in the municipality of Caguas, has demanded that femicide be on the list of topics discussed during the government’s current transitional hearings.
In light of the government’s lack of response to their demands, the group recently launched an emergency number where women can call in for help.