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Singer Selena Shot to Death in Texas

By Sue Anne Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 1, 1995

AUSTIN, TEX., MARCH 31 -- She was known simply as Selena, and, with her bustiers, high boots and lusty voice, she was often described as the Mexican American Madonna. In an incident that has left thousands of fans grieving, Selena Quintanilla Perez, 23, was shot to death this morning at a Days Inn motel in Corpus Christi, cutting short a career that had already brought her a Grammy and the promise of superstardom.

The shooting was reported shortly before noon, and late into the night police negotiated with a female suspect who was sitting in a red pickup truck in the motel parking lot and threatening suicide by holding a gun to her head, said police Capt. J.D. Brewer. Brewer, who would not release the suspect's name, said the woman, who surrendered shortly before 10 p.m. (11 p.m. EST), is Hispanic and about 34 years old. He would not speculate about a motive for the shooting.

But Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla, said the woman was Yolanda Saldivar, who had been president of Selena's fan club before she was hired at one of the singer's boutiques. Quintanilla told the Dallas Morning News that Saldivar "was a disgruntled employee. We suspected her of embezzling money, and we started closing in on her and she just went bananas."

"She lured Selena to the parking lot of a motel supposedly to hand over some bank statements and papers, and then she shot her," he said.

Quintanilla said the woman had authority to write checks from Selena's business checking accounts, and his daughter recently had become suspicious about money taken from fan club accounts.

Selena, whose vivacious singing and dancing had brought her fame throughout the Southwest and, increasingly, throughout the country, won a Grammy last year for best Mexican American album for "Live." More recently, her album "Amor Prohibido," or "Forbidden Love," went quadruple platinum, with the song of the same name garnering another Grammy nomination this year. In the popular world of Tejano music -- a modernized version of the old accordion-based Tex-Mex style called conjunto -- she was known as "The First Lady," and today her fans were stunned by the tragedy.

"This will probably be known as the Black Friday of the Tejano music industry," said Rudy Trevino, executive director of the Texas Talent Musicians Association in San Antonio and sponsor of the annual Tejano Music Awards. Selena recently shone at the Tejano awards ceremony, winning seven honors, including best album, best song, best video and female entertainer of the year.

"She had so many fans who loved her and had watched her career blossom into superstardom. She was on top of the world," Trevino said. "She will be greatly missed."

While Selena cultivated a sexy stage presence -- "like Madonna, but not so vulgar," said fan Arlene Tarango of Austin -- she was also known for her focus on family values. She began singing at age 5 in Corpus Christi with Los Dinos, the band started by her father, who is now her manager; her husband, Chris Perez, played guitar in her band. They had no children.

In a 1994 interview with the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, Selena described her music as "polka . . . a little bit of country, a little bit of jazz," and confessed that she had once been shy. "But I would say," she added slyly, "I've broken out of that shell."

At her concerts, male admirers often tossed their cowboy hats onto the stage and tried to storm the platform, arms outstretched to embrace her.

Long a popular fixture in the Southwest, where radio stations today played her songs and callers talked sadly about the tragedy, Selena had branched out in recent years, playing in Washington, New York and other East Coast venues. Daniel Bueno, the promoter who arranged her most recent appearance at the D.C. Armory, called her "a young rising star" and said, "When I heard the news, something happened to me, and I started crying.

"She meant a lot to Hispanics in terms of identity," he said. "She was one of the Latinos, the young Americans, who made it. I was talking to her father last night about her next tour. She was coming back to Washington in September."

Trevino, of the Tejano Music Awards, said Selena recently had begun recording in English, which was her first language. He had no doubt, he said, that her best career years were ahead.

She was booked to perform tonight, Bueno said, at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post

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