she graduated from Emory with a degree in psychology, Athena
Perez 96C went home to Chicago and attended nursing
school. She is now a school nurse in the Chicago public
school system. Her favorite pastime is traveling to faraway
places; this summer she took a trip to Ireland. Perez recently
happy and whole as her life is, Perez is forever shadowed
by a dark memory. On a spring day in 1994, Perez and two
friends went out looking for her sophomore year roommate,
Shannon Melendi, who had not been home in twenty-four
hours. They found only Melendis car, abandoned at
a gas station near campus, unlocked, and with the keys
hanging in the ignition.
was like a bad dream, Perez says now. We saw
her car, we knew it was her car, and I said, I am going
over there. I was almost expecting to see a body, but
I didnt. It was probably the worst moment of my
moment has never ended for Melendis family, who
still do not know what happened to her; a body was never
found. March 26, 2004 marked the tenth anniversary of
tenth anniversary was absolutely awful, said Luis
Melendi, Shannons father, from his home in Miami.
I didnt think we could be in so much pain
ten years later and still be alive.
day was made harder by the knowledge that three months
earlier, the man suspected by many to be responsible for
the crime, Colvin Butch Hinton, was released
from federal prison in North Carolina, where he had served
a nine-year sentence for insurance fraud. He worked as
an umpire at the now-defunct Softball Country Club on
North Decatur Road, where Melendi had a job as a scorekeeper,
and is thought to be the last person to see Melendi when
she took a lunch break on the day she vanished. Hinton
also drew police suspicion because he had a history of
kidnapping young women.
case, which drew intense publicity, has been tracked by
both local and federal law enforcement agencies and featured
on television more than ten times. DeKalb County Police
handled the initial investigation but were unable to gather
enough evidence to charge anyone.
the federal government prosecuted Hinton for fraud, Emorys
General Counsel Kent Alexander was the United States Attorney
in Atlanta. My office knew all about Hintons
suspected role in Shannon Melendis death, which
made his conviction and lengthy prison sentence especially
gratifying, Alexander says. We could not bring
Shannon back to her family, but we were at least able
to make sure some justice was done.
August, the DeKalb County District Attorneys office,
which took over the Melendi files last year, pursued charges
against Hinton and had him arrested for Shannons
murder, based on a new development: Hinton may have talked
about the crime to other inmates in jail.
Melendis are grateful that they may finally see some closure
in their daughters case; Shannons father described
his reaction to the arrest as ecstatic. But
justice is bittersweet for Melendi, who has become a public
advocate for victims and their families, lobbying for
tougher criminal laws against sex offenders. I have
knocked on every door that is humanly possible,
he says. I have asked for help from everyone who
would hear me. I have nothing to gain. I cant bring
Shannon back. The only thing I can do is prevent another
family from going through what we went through. Thats
the most important thing.
came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1961 with his parents, who
were seeking freedom from communism. He and his wife,
Yvonne, met in 1970, when he was a rock musician and she
was working as a flight attendant. Soon afterward, Melendi
became a professional photographer and opened his own
studio. The Melendis have another, younger daughter.
daughter wont have her sister there on the day of
her wedding, Melendi says. Her kids wont
have an aunt. Its been ten years, but its
taken a lot more than that out of my life and my familys
Shannon were still here, she, like her classmate Athena
Perez, would be thirty years old. According to those who
knew her, she most likely would have entered the Navy
and completed law school by now. After that, she had set
her sights on Washington, politics, and her dream, the
Supreme Court. Despite her youth, she had concrete plans
and a determined spirit. She had reached many of
her goals up to the point she was murdered, her
father says. I dont doubt that she could have
reached many, many more.
was very social and outgoing, Perez says. She
was well liked, and she knew everyone. I still think of
her as Shannon at eighteen. In my mind she has not aged.
Perez has gone on with her life, she says she was changed
forever the moment she came upon her friends empty
am certainly not very trusting, she says. When
it came time for my graduation from Emory, I found I needed
to go back home, and thats what I did. But I do
still think about Shannon. She is always in my thoughts.P.P.P.