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Singer Selena Fatally Shot By Fan Her Death At 23 Brings An Outpouring Of Grief In The Nation’s Hispanic Communities

Grammy-winning singer Selena, the top female Tejano music star, was fatally shot in the back outside a Corpus Christi, Texas, motel on Friday by a woman who held off a police SWAT team for more than 9 hours by threatening to commit suicide.

The singer’s father identified the suspect as Yolanda Saldivar, 34, a former president of his daughter’s fan club who was hired last year as an employee but fired three weeks ago after the family discovered money missing.

Corpus Christi police confirmed that they believe the suspect is Saldivar.

Selena Quintanilla Perez, the 23-year-old millionaire-singer who gave sizzling Madonna-like stage performances, was at the peak of her career and idolized by fans in the United States and Mexico.

Her death brought an outpouring of grief in Hispanic communities. Fans quickly arranged memorial services Friday night in Fort Worth and Dallas.

“Just total shock, people are stunned, in denial, even at this late hour,” Ramiro Burr, a syndicated Tejano music columnist, said of reaction in San Antonio. “It’s devastating to them.”

A Dallas Tejano radio station was taking 100 calls an hour after announcing the shooting and began playing 24 straight hours of Selena’s music as a tribute, said KICK-FM disk jockey Jose Carlos “Tejano Joe” Gutierrez.

“Going from poverty to super-stardom, Selena gave hope to young Mexican-Americans that we could accomplish our dreams,” Gutierrez said.

The performer’s father, who served as her manager, said a series of events starting with an employee’s firing in early March led to the shooting.

He said Saldivar was the founding president of Selena’s fan club, serving from 1990 until she was hired last year to help in his daughter’s clothing boutiques, Selena Etc.

Abraham Quintanilla said in a telephone interview that his daughter and other members of the family had confronted Saldivar about the missing money.

“We showed her the evidence and the lady just went bananas,” he said.

Selena later contacted Saldivar in Monterrey, Mexico, and asked her to return bank statements and other business documents, Quintanilla said. He said the two women agreed to meet Friday at the parking lot of the Days Inn in Corpus Christi.

Police Sgt. Richard L. Garcia said the singer was shot with a pistol at 11:05 a.m. She died at Memorial Medical Center at 1:05 p.m., hospital spokeswoman Gretchen Benkendorfer said.

“She was shot in the parking lot, ran into the lobby in an attempt to get help,” Garcia said. “She was shot in the back with the bullet exiting her chest.”

He said police found the suspect in a pickup in the parking lot, “possibly trying to get away. Then she put a gun to her head.”

He said the suspect communicated with negotiators throughout the afternoon and evening. She surrendered shortly before 8:30 p.m.

Hispanic Business magazine estimated Selena’s recording and business interests at $5 million. She had a Coca-Cola endorsement, a recording studio in Corpus Christi and boutique/salons in Corpus Cristi and San Antonio.

Selena had performed since the age of 8 and was considered “the Madonna of the Tejano music world” because of her alluring costumes and popular draw, said Viviano “Sonny” Flores, a Dallas promoter who arranged her packed March 14 appearance at Fort Worth’s Guys and Dolls club.

Selena was to headline the Boys & Girls Club Cinco de Mayo festival in late April in Fort Worth and give a May 7 show at the Music Mill Amphitheater at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, where she sold out in a concert last June.

Her musician father had started Los Dinos, the band with which she played. Her husband, Chris Perez, was lead guitarist; her brother Abe was on bass and sister Suzette played drums.

After the family lost its restaurant business, “we were literally doing it to put food on the table,” Selena told Texas Monthly.

Selena is credited with successfully introducing Tejano music - a blend of country, Texas accordian, pop and Mexican dance music performed by Hispanic Texans - to enthusiastic audiences in Mexico, Burr said.

She received the 1994 Grammy for best Tejano album. Her current album “Amor Prohibido” - (Forbidden Love) - sold more than 500,000 copies and she was working on her first Englishlanguage CD. For the past seven years, she had received either the Tejano Music Award for performer of the year or best female vocalist.

Although she performed at times in revealing bustiers, her songs stressed family values, Burr said.

“Selena at this point was the top artist in the genre known as Tex-Mex or Tejano,” he said. “She emerged as a leading force in 1990. By 1992, she had cracked the Billboard and radio charts and from that point maintained a constant presence on the charts.

“She was versatile,” Burr said. “She could whisper a song or sing out full throttle with a cry in her voice. She had range, from ballads to ‘cumbias,’ fast-paced Mexican dance music. But her promise was unfulfilled. We’ll never find out just what more she was a capable of doing.”