It was more than five years ago that Diana Cantu and her six grandchildren lost the woman that was at the center of their world.
Veronica Ayala was gunned down inside her downtown Sunnyside home on July 29, 2007 while her children were present. It was her then 7-year-old child, Deond'dreh, who found her and shuffled the younger children away from the grisly scene into another room.
The suspect, Eric Flores, was nowhere to be found and authorities began a manhunt for the fugitive. The U.S. Marshal's Service joined the hunt because authorities believed Flores may have fled to Mexico.
That belief, it turns out, was correct and the now 30-year-old fugitive was arrested in Cuernavaca, Mexico last Wednesday.
Sunnyside Police Det. Sgt. John Chumley said his department on July 31, 2007 requested charges of second degree murder against Flores and an arrest warrant was issued at that time.
He said the police department has worked with the Marshal's service and authorities hope Flores will be extradited to face those charges in the near future.
"Once Flores is returned to our custody, he will be tried for murder second degree and first degree unlawful possession of a firearm by the Yakima County Prosecutor's Office," said Chumley.
He said the arrest resulted from a coordinated effort.
"During the last 18 to 24 months Sunnyside police detectives and the department's analyst developed actionable information on Flores' location in Mexico. This information was forwarded to a U.S. Marshal's led Pacific Northwest Violent Offenders Task Force case agent, who coordinated with U.S. Marshals and Interpol in Mexico," said Chumley.
He said the Mexican Policia Federal Ministerial made the arrest and have Flores in custody.
The Department of Justice Office of International Affairs has also been involved in preparing for Flores' eventual extradition to the U.S.
Cantu, who took in her daughter's six children and raised them, feels some relief from the news, but says the past five years have been very difficult.
"It's been hard grieving Veronica's death, waiting for Eric to be arrested and to face the scrutiny of being with his (Flores') brother," she said, explaining her partner of 11 years is the brother of the murder suspect.
Cantu said it was her daughter who introduced her to the man, Juaquin Macial, who has been helping her raise the children.
"But he's (Macial) not the one who pulled the trigger," she said in defense of her partner. "We were together before Eric killed my daughter."
The grieving mother said, addressing those who criticize her, "Nobody knows what happened...no matter what, Veronica didn't deserve to die."
Cantu's two sons, Jessie and Jonathan Vialon, have also been supportive of Cantu and the children.
"Our family has been brought closer together through this tragedy," she said, adding there is a tremendous amount of love in her home.
"It's been hard, waiting for the news that Eric has been caught...I cried when I heard the news from John (Chumley)," Cantu said, stating for the past five years she eagerly awaited the news that recently was shared with her.
"I am grateful to John and (Sgt.) Jeff Cunningham, as well as for the U.S. marshals for never giving up," she stated.