Charity DePina was a polite, high-spirited young woman who attended Bible study and other church services three times a week.
She loved listening to music, watching comedies and eating burgers and fries at Burger King and Mexican pizzas at Taco Bell. Her hair was a big deal. She was always getting it done in braids and she liked to change the color once a month. Her favorite colors were red and blue.
The 22-year-old from Merced, who was autistic and had the mental development of a 10-year-old, would text family and friends often to say “Hi, it’s me Charity. Do you love me? I still love you,” said her aunt, Anita Iniguez.
“She never wanted people angry with her,” said Iniguez of Manteca. “She wanted love and attention.”
DePina died Nov. 10 from injuries suffered during an assault with a blunt object in her boyfriend’s southeast Fresno home at 4897 E. Illinois Ave. The boyfriend, Gabriel Salvador Salinas, 44, was charged with her murder and torture. Salinas is in jail waiting for trial.
Before DePina met Salinas, she was a happy, loving person who gave people hugs, her aunt said. She lived with her parents and older brother in Merced. DePina graduated from high school – she had been in a special education program – and enrolled at Merced College to become a teacher’s aide. She had a boyfriend who she had been dating for four years. They went to high school prom together, Iniguez said.
DePina met Salinas in an online chat room in early 2017. He would pick DePina up in Merced, then drive to Fresno where they would stay together for days, Iniguez said. She would leave in the middle of the night while her father, Roy, was working, Iniguez said. DePina’s mother, Caroline, was ill and hospitalized at the time. She died later that summer.
The family asked DePina if they could meet Salinas or invite him over. DePina would say, “He doesn’t want to meet you,” Iniguez said. “That’s when she got mean and rebellious and told her dad she didn’t have to do what he wanted.”
Iniguez never saw signs of physical abuse, but she said DePina would text her and other family members to say Salinas was beating her. The family tried calling police, but didn’t know where DePina was staying. They called DePina’s social worker, her mentors and the church for help. But the answer was always the same. DePina was an adult, and she had to leave Salinas voluntarily to seek help.
“Every last person said to us that because of her age, (despite) her disability, we can’t do anything,” Iniguez said.
To the family, DePina’s disability had everything to do with her death because she didn’t have the ability to make good decisions.
“It’s like talking to a 7-year-old girl and luring her into a van with candy,” Iniguez said. “She’s slow and disabled. That guy picked her out like a predator … he manipulated her.”
Iniguez is working on creating “Charity’s Law” to help women with disabilities caught in similar situations.
“I think of (Charity) every single day, multiple times a day,” Iniguez said. “I feel like I still have to talk about this and do more. This needs to be prevented.”
The DePina family is collecting money to pay for funeral costs, to help support Charity DePina’s father and brother, who are also autistic, and to raise awareness of autism.