Clarissa Carolyn Rivera, 19, doesn’t remember much about her first years of life. She faintly remembers her mother doing her hair in front of a big mirror before church. Rivera walks by the mirror today, but doesn’t see her mother, Alesha Dorothy Suarez, who was murdered at 23 years old.
The crime occurred at her home in the Cypress Club Apartments off Rouse Road. Suarez was stabbed and someone tried to cover the murder by setting her on fire.
Suarez didn’t show up to work Monday morning. Colonial Bank in Casselberry where Suarez worked as a bank teller called Dorothy Torres, Suarez’s aunt to find out why Suarez didn’t show up to work.
About the same time, Suarez sister, Carolyn Bufill- Casella, had just appeared for work when her boss called her into his office and handed her the phone. It was Torres’ husband: “Carol you need to go! It’s Alesha.” Although Suarez had lived in Orlando for 10 years, she grew up in New York and had a rough childhood with little money. Her parents died when she was 12 and she was raised on Chickasaw trails in East Orlando by her aunt.
As a teenager, Suarez had dreams and goals, but also faced battles. They led her to attempt suicide at 13, a trauma that affected the family. Suarez had a very special group of friends. Their friendship started as teenagers when they assisted Liberty Middle School and their friendship continued into adulthood. Suarez was also the kind of person to look out for her friends. “I needed a ride one time at 3 in the morning and Alesha came and picked me up,” Kylene Carreras a friend of Suarez said.
Suarez was always optimistic and showed loved, but she didn’t like to show weakness. She was compassionate and had everything under control. However, her diary showed she was sad.
Bufill-Casella took care of her little sister and made sure she wouldn’t go through the same struggles as she did. Her sister wanted to protect Suarez from the abusive environment she lived in. Though it wasn’t easy to hide reality. “I was little but I understood everything that was going on. My sister suffered the most” Suarez wrote in her diary.
As a teenager, Suarez worked at Dairy Queen on South Semoran Blvd and Colonial. About the same time her relationship with the love of her life, Caleb Rivera blossomed. Suarez met Caleb when she was 13 years old. They would stay up late talking on the phone and they would write love letters to each other. The family thought they were too young to date and Suarez was terrified when she got caught talking on the phone with Caleb. As years passed by, she did great in school and enjoyed time with family and friends and some afternoons were joined by salami and cheese sandwich that her aunt would make.
Suarez finally checked graduating Colonial High School off her to-do list in 1997, moved out of her aunt’s house shortly and enrolled at Valencia Community College.
After many years of dating, Caleb and Suarez moved in together and a year later she became pregnant with their first daughter. Her first child, Clarissa, was born May 1998. Suarez went back to school three weeks after giving birth and life became even busier. She would get up early in the morning, drop her daughter off early at her grandmother’s house, open the bank,picked up her daughter after work, went home, cooked for her family and at night she would focus on school. Suarez’s hard work paid off when she graduated College. “She was literally on no sleep,” her sister said. “She never gave up.”
Today Rivera’s drawings and creativity resembles her mother’s authentic love for art.
It’s been 16 years since someone took Suarez’s life and no one has been prosecuted or arrested. Her case remains unsolved.
This year Suarez would have turned 39 years old. The years have passed and she will never be forgotten. Her personality, her achievements and her creativity will always be cherished by her family and friends. Her family supported Suarez through every phase of her life.
Torres was there for Suarez when she was moving out, she was her niece’s strength and guidance. Bufill- Casella looked out for her sister and continues to look out for Suarez’s daughter.
Her cousins enjoyed her silliness. Her brother cherished every moment they had together. Caleb keeps Suarez’s gifts in a very special place. Rivera resembles her mom, but shines with her own unique light.
All of her friends got a butterfly tattoo to represent her. In addition, Torres chose butterflies to represent Alesha’s funeral. The reason was simple.
“The butterflies’ lives are very short and beautiful, once you see it bloom into that beautiful color, they don’t last that long,” she said. “They have a short and beautiful life.”
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