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After Two Decades, Residents Hope to Memorialize Murdered Child

By Serena Solomon | March 18, 2014 8:54am
 Elisa Izquierdo caused a wave of change in child welfare agencys following her brutal murder in 1995
Elisa Izquierdo
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LOWER EAST SIDE — In the nearly two decades since 6-year-old Elisa Izquierdo was murdered by her mother on the Lower East Side, Dalia Soto has thought about the case every day.

Soto, 71, never met Elisa, but the two lived in neighboring housing complexes and shared birthdays a day apart in February. Soto — who has four sons but no daughter — said she has long struggled to imagine how Elisa's mother could have harmed her.

"Since this happened, I feel like I am attached to this little girl," Soto said.

Elisa's death on Thanksgiving weekend in 1995 attracted broad attention — prompting a national conversation about child abuse, a wave of reforms to the city's child welfare system, and a child welfare law named in her honor.

Yet there have been no public spaces named in New York City named in Elisa's memory to date. Soto is hoping to change that on Wednesday night, when she plans to petition Community Board 3 to support her proposal to name the small medium strip on Pike Street near Madison Street Elisa Izquierdo Park.

"It was something that touched everybody's heart by the way she was tortured and killed," said Soto, a former Community Board 3 member and retired social worker. "It moved everybody's heart."

This is the second time Soto has proposed a public memorial in Elisa's name. The year after the girl's death, Soto tried to name a park after Elisa at her former housing complex, the Rutgers Houses. The tenant association rejected the gesture, according to Soto and correspondence from the time.

"Before I die I want to see something in her name," Soto said, explaining why she is pushing for the street renaming now.

Elisa's death was a child abuse case that slipped through the cracks at every opportunity and stirred outrage across the city.

Elisa's mother, Awilda Lopez, lost custody of the girl after passing along her cocaine addiction to Elisa at birth. However, Elisa was later returned to Lopez following the death of Elisa's father in 1994, despite reports to the city's child welfare agency that Elisa was being physically, emotionally and sexually abused by Lopez on her weekend visits, according to reports.

Following the murder, those who lived in the building reported hearing Elisa begging her mother to stop beating her. An autopsy revealed that in her final days, Elisa's head had been smashed so hard against a wall that she suffered brain hemorrhaging.

Lopez pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. She was eligible for parole in 2010, but has so far been denied, according to the state's Board of Parole.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was also touched by the little girl's death. In 1996, he helped pass Elisa's Law, which lifted some of the confidentiality restrictions surrounding child abuse cases to hold child welfare agencies more accountable.

"It would be a fitting honor to Elisa's memory and a tribute to her short life to have a street named for her in a neighborhood that so deeply mourned her loss," Silver said in a statement to DNAinfo New York this week.

Soto has collected more than 400 signatures so far in support of Elisa Izquierdo Park, including many from Rutgers and LaGuardia Houses, the closest complexes to the proposed sign. Significant local support is a key requirement of Community Board 3's street co-naming guidelines.

Once Community Board 3 weighs in on the street naming, the proposal will go to the City Council, which makes the final decision.

"It was close to home," said Elsa Quiñones, who has lived in the area since 1957 and is supporting the proposed park name. "We heard stories of this happening in other places, but this was really close to home."

Quiñones said a street sign with Elisa's name on it would keep the neighborhood vigilant against child abuse.

"Maybe people will pass by and wonder why and people will tell them why," she said.