Police hunt for Astoria student’s killer

| ccruz@queenscourier.com |

The brutal death of a young woman in Astoria, the first homicide in the neighborhood this year, has police investigating all possible leads as family and friends gathered to say goodbye to a promising young student.

The body of Carmen Saldaña-Mundo, 23, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), was discovered by her mother on Sunday, July 12, lying face up in her mother’s bed, wrapped in a heavy comforter and completely nude, police sources said.

The police department has confirmed that Saldaña died of asphyxiation by strangulation and have ruled the death a homicide. Aside from the bruises around the petite Mexican’s neck, no other bruises appeared on her knees or body and no immediate signs of rape or sexual assault were noted, but tests results are still pending.

Since finding the woman, detectives at the 114th Precinct have been busy trying to recreate the events that led to her death.

Saldaña, an advertising and marketing communications major at FIT where she had attended for two years, was home alone all weekend in the second floor apartment of the three-story brick building that the family has lived in for the past 18 years at 47-17 30th Avenue, while the mother, Susana Saldaña, cleaned houses in the Hamptons.

The victim had, however, ventured out to a house party in Long Island City on Saturday, July 11, where she lost her phone. Detectives have spoken to the host of the party and also the person who found the phone – who promised to return it – but did not identify any potential subjects, according to the police. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly confirmed on Tuesday, July 14 that based on videos “she left unaccompanied,” but news reports have said that someone may have followed her home.

Police dusted the doorway for fingerprints, and sources say that they found evidence of forced entry – the front door had been kicked open and the chain-lock broken. News reports indicate that nothing appeared to be missing from the apartment.

According to Saldaña’s father, Gilberto Saldaña, his daughter did not have a boyfriend. Reports, however, noted that Saldaña last posted on her Facebook page on Thursday, July 9 that “the guy that does like me I don’t like but won’t leave me alone.”

A police department source confirmed that a lot of evidence had been gathered, including the victim’s Mac computer.

Saldaña’s ex-husband, Cesar Quesada, whom she married in 2004 and is now a police officer in Las Vegas, has not yet made any public comments.

Saldaña’s murder marks the first within the confines of the 114th Precinct for the 2009 year-to-date and makes the 114th the last precinct in Queens to register a murder.

Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. expressed his shock at the tragedy that has startled this usually-quiet neighborhood.

“I have been in contact with the Commanding Officer at the 114th as we always are when unusual criminal activity occurs,” said Vallone. “Astoria prides itself on being the last precinct in the city to register a murder and that’s why we are going to go all-out to figure out who did this.”

Neighbors, who heard about the tragedy, walked by the makeshift memorial because they too couldn’t believe this happened so close to home.

“You don’t hear anything in this neighborhood ever – and I’ve been here five years,” said Anne Marie W., who lives two blocks away.

Saldaña’s downstairs neighbor, Baruch accounting student Koshy Abraham, 20, said that though he was home all weekend he hadn’t noticed anything until the cops arrived.

“I was home when they found her. It was pretty hectic with all the cops around. They wouldn’t let us leave the apartment,” said Abraham, who has lived in the building for two years.

Services were held at the Ortiz Funeral Home in the Bronx on Thursday, July 16. Afterwards, the family will take the body back to Mexico City.