Sons of slain parents in El Jebel find new life in Aspen
How you can help
Donations to help the Amaya family can me made to the Amaya Family Benefit Account, located at Alpine Bank.
The Alpine Bank for people who want to give to exclusively to the sons is called the Lopez Family Benefit Account.
The living room in the Amaya family’s Aspen home shows what a tight-knit family they are. Family photos are ample, including those of Mayra and Eliseo Lopez.
The two are deceased, their lives cut short July 12 in their El Jebel home by gunshots allegedly fired by their nephew, Williams Anderson Amaya. Mayra was 40, Eliseo 42.
They left behind two sons, Jesse, 13, and Eliseo, 15. Until that fateful day, the two boys had attended school in Basalt.
Instantly, the two were without their parents, who had been married for 16 years. Their home was a crime scene. And once it was cleared, they couldn’t live there by themselves.
But they found a new home in Aspen, where their aunt and uncle, Blanca “Edith” Argueta Amaya and Antonio Amaya, live with their son, Eric, 18, and daughter Amy, 10. Jesse and Eliseo began the fall semester in the Aspen School District, Jesse at the middle school, Eliseo at the high school. Also joining them was the Lopez family dog.
“It was hard making friends at the new school,” Jesse said. “The tests and everything, it’s hard to adjust.”
It’s a life of adjustment and drastic change, not only for Jesse and Eliseo, but for their relatives who have taken them in.
They grieve daily for Mayra and Eliseo Lopez and try to support each other along the way.
“It was a very close relationship,” Jesse said. “We would talk every morning, and my mom and dad would always want to know what we were learning in school.”
Both boys were at home that night when their cousin allegedly fired the shots. Prosecutors have said the cousin planned to kill the boys, too,
“When it happened, it kind of felt like a mix between a scary nightmare that you couldn’t get away from, like some unbearable fear that you have,” said Jesse, who fled the home with his brother. “I wasn’t thinking straight then, but I just wanted to get out of there.”
Eliseo doesn’t talk as openly about that night as his younger brother, but he admits that moving on is a struggle.
“We were close,” he said of his parents. “They asked me how I did and school and what I had learned.”
Grieving and moving on
When the Amaya couple talks about life now, words don’t come easily. The two El Salvadorians spoke through a translator, Edwin Membreno, their nephew from the Front Range.
“It’s a very hard time for everybody,” Antonio Amaya said, his voice breaking up. Antonio is the brother of Eliseo Lopez. “They don’t have family anywhere else. Everybody is spread over, in California and Virginia. We thank God that they’re here with us. It feels right.”
Antonio cooks at an Aspen restaurant and Blanca is a housekeeper. They both had to adjust their work schedules to have a greater presence in both their children and nephews’ lives.
“It’s a very tough time,” Blanca said. “We lost two family members that are very important to us. We’re not going to be able to open up to that very easily, but we want to keep moving forward. The kids need us to keep moving forward and they are the reason we need to keep moving forward. It’s really hard for us right now. But the deceased are with us every day.”
Blanca said her boss is supportive of her and has let her cut back on her hours so she can focus more on her family.
For 10-year-old Amy Amaya, a student at Aspen Middle School, grieving is a daily event, but she gets strength from her cousins and the community.
“My aunt and my uncle were second parents to me, and these two [Jesse and Eliseo] are like my brothers now,” she said. “I lost my second mom and my second dad. It hurts a lot, but there’s support from my friends and teachers and my homeroom teacher. They are very supportive, especially my vice principal, Molly [Tiernan].”
The community has been supportive, family members say, especially the Aspen Elks Lodge, which has donated money to them, and Alpine Legal Services, which is handling the entire estate. They also thank Allison Daily, of Pathfinders, who has helped the family during the transition.
“She’s an angel,” Blanca said.
Daily also credits Marleny Koch for her work as the family’s translator for Pathfinders and for Alpine Legal Services.
Family puts trust in justice system, God
Both Blanca and Antonio said they will continue to attend the court hearings for Williams Amaya, 33, who faces two charges of first-degree murder and two counts of criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree.
He currently is being held in Eagle County Jail without bond. He has yet to enter a plea, but at his preliminary hearing Oct. 6, defense attorneys suggested that psychological issues precipitated the double homicide. Amaya is eligible for the death penalty, but the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has said it is leaning toward not pursuing that punishment.
Family members said it’s not their place to judge their jailed relative. They will leave that decision in the hands of higher authorities.
“We can’t decide what would be justice for him,” Antonio said. “We just want the law to do what the law’s supposed to do.”
Likewise, Jesse said he shouldn’t have a say in his cousin’s fate.
“It’s not our place to judge him for what he did,” he said. “It’s not anyone’s decision. It’s God’s decision, so I just leave the justice to God.”
Eliseo said he was close with his cousin.
“I used to hang out with him, and mostly he was nice to me,” he said. But he recalled one time last school year when Amaya “pushed me to the wall. He thought I was saying something to him, and he immediately asked me what it was.”
Eliseo and Jesse have not attended any of the court hearings, but they said they plan to in the future.
For now, they focus on moving on with their lives. They both like playing the guitar, and Jesse enjoys martial arts and doing street magic, such as card tricks. Jesse likes math and plays defensive tackle for his school’s football team.
And they’re Denver Broncos fans, too, with many Sundays spent watching the games together. They also like playing football, and that includes with Amy, the youngest one in the household.
“I feel so much love by Jesse and Eliseo, too,” Amy said. “Jesse helps me with homework and he loves me a lot. We do stuff together and play football outside. It is so nice having them being here for me.”