Before she turned nine years old, a pretty Texas girl named Selena Quintanilla Perez was already singing at roadhouse dance halls and weddings, purveying a bright, up-tempo version of traditional Mexican-American border music. A little more than a decade later, she was the Grammy-winning queen of the booming "Tejano" music market, playing to crowds of 60,000 and selling more than 1.5 million records in the U.S. and Mexico. "Never in my dreams would I have thought that I would become this big," she told TIME in a recent interview. "I am still freaking out."
On Friday, two weeks shy of her 24th birthday, the singer, now known simply as Selena, was shot to death in a motel in Corpus Christi, Texas. The accused assailant was a former employee, Yolanda Saldivar, 32, who once headed Selena's fan club and later ran a boutique owned by the singer. Saldivar was arrested after a nine-hour standoff with police in the parking lot of the Days Inn. The only explanation offered for the killing came from Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla, who suggested that Selena's meeting with Saldivar at the Days Inn was about financial irregularities. "My daughter Selena was killed this morning by a disgruntled employee," said Quintanilla. "There were discrepancies with the fan club, and they resulted in the shooting of Selena."
The news of her death was a bitter blow to many Texans, especially Mexican-American youths, for whom Selena had become both an icon and a role model. She was the embodiment of young, smart, hip, Mexican-American youth-wearing midriff-baring bustiers and boasting of a tight-knit family and a down-to-earth personality, a Madonna without the controversy. Hundreds of teenagers, many weeping, gathered at the scene of the shooting, while on the other side of town a long procession of cars passed the lower-middle-class home where Selena lived. Many fans placed balloons and notes of condolence in a chain-link fence in front of her property. Bouquets of flowers piled up outside her boutique.
In San Antonio, the acknowledged capital of Tejano music, Selena's fans responded to news of her death by organizing two memorial services on Friday night. On San Antonio's South Side, a throng that included children and seniors converged on the parking lot of South Park Mall. As darkness fell, they waved candles, wept and swayed gently to Selena's recordings. A similar scene took place across town at Brackenridge Park. Meanwhile, thousands of callers jammed the lines at the state's 32 Tejano radio stations, most of which were alternating coverage of the shooting with Selena music "marathons."