Five years after murder, community member keeps sister’s memory alive

Rafael Colon had a strong reaction to his 23rd birthday this year.

“The age I am right now, my sister never made it to,” Colon said. “She died when she was 22.”

Colon’s sister, Melanie, was killed more than five years ago. Philadelphia Police found the bisexual North Philadelphia DJ’s body behind a Juniata Park apartment building on May 12, 2012. She had been shot six times. Melanie left her home days earlier with her friend, Reynaldo Torres, and drove away in his 1983 Mazda. Police recovered Torres’ jawbone in a dirt alley behind a baseball field on Fourth and Westmoreland streets more than a year later. Both murders remain unsolved.

“At this moment in my life, I don’t feel like we’ll ever be able to find out what happened to Mel,” said Colon, who bears a tattoo of his sister’s name on his forearm. “I want to [find out] and I’m praying that we do, but I don’t have that faith right now. I lost it.”

However, Colon has not lost faith in keeping his sister’s memory alive. The openly gay community member moderates a Facebook page that he updates frequently with photos, videos and anecdotes to honor Melanie.

Most recently, Colon took the stage at OutFest where he performed Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” following a brief speech about Melanie.

“She’d probably be at the bar, getting a drink, already dancing,” Colon told the crowd onstage about what Melanie would be doing if she were at Outfest, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

However, Colon was not only honoring his sister at OutFest. He sported a T-shirt bearing side-by-side photos of Melanie and Franchesca “Cheka” Alvarado. Alvarado went missing in Atlantic City, N.J., months before Colon’s death. Her severed foot was found more than a year later at Corson’s Inlet Park in Ocean City. Like Colon, her murder remains unsolved.

Colon bonded with Alvarado’s family through social media and he has since used his platform to keep their family member’s memory alive as well.

“It gave me a little bit of comfort,” Colon said on connecting with the family. “It’s not like I’m dealing with a regular family that’s telling me, ‘It’s going to be OK. You’ll live with it. You’re going to learn how to deal with it.’ I didn’t choose a family like that. I chose them because they made me feel like family and they [are going] through the same pain. We both lost a sister. I think that’s what made us connect even faster.”

Colon noted how his 9-year-old nephew, Melanie’s son Joshua, plays a role in his desire to keep his sister’s memory alive.

“I don’t want my nephew to grow up thinking his mom left him,” Colon said. “Melanie died when he was at a very young age. She passed away when he was 4 years old and Joshua is about to be 10 in December. So the main thing I don’t want him to think is that his mom left him.”

He added that he wants to make sure Joshua can Google information about his mother, which is why Colon updates the Facebook memorial page and reaches out to media outlets.

“I want him to read that somebody took his mother’s life,” he said. “I don’t ever want him to think his mom left him and that’s the main reason why I do what I do. I always remind him about his mom. If you ask Joshua where is his mom at, he’ll tell you she’s in the sky with the angels.”

Colon noted what he wants others to learn from his experience.

“My message to people is to never give up, to keep going. If you ever lost a loved one, keep their name alive and don’t be shy for them. Be loud. Open your mouth for them because they don’t have a mouth anymore to speak out of. That’s why you have to speak for them.”

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