Salvador Rodriguez was 24 when he was killed last month, but he had the disposition of a child, his family said.
Rodriguez collected Pokémon cards and loved watching cartoons. He volunteered at the library, cleaning and putting away books and DVDs and assisting students in computer classes. Even when he wasn’t working, Rodriguez would spend hours at the library among the books, sometimes reading biographies about his favorite singers, Selena and Jenni Rivera, or just browsing, his family said.
“He had a fetish for paper, that was his thing,” joked Rodriguez’s sister-in-law Monique Arellano. She laughed as she recalled Rodriguez retrieving a binder filled with paperwork, which she’d trashed after her sophomore year in high school as a commencement to summer vacation.
Arellano said Rodriguez was quite sharp but had learning disabilities and a speech impairment. He was naive and trusting, perhaps to his detriment.
Rodriguez’s body was discovered May 17 in an open field on the bank northwest of the Tuolumne Boulevard exit from Highway 99, just a few blocks from the home where he lived with his grandmother. The smell of his decomposing body alerted neighbors to its presence.
It’s unclear, though, when Rodriguez last was seen alive. No one reported him missing.
Modesto police Sgt. Ivan Valencia said it could have been any time from May 1 to May 10, based on accounts given by Rodriguez’s grandmother. Valencia believes her age and the stress of the situation have affected her ability to recall specific details.
Also, Rodriguez often would stay with other family members or even on the banks of the Tuolumne river with homeless people he’d befriended, Valencia said.
“He would spend the day with anyone who would take the time out to sit with him and (talk),” Arellano said. “If he had a dollar and you wanted it, he would give it to you; if you needed a dollar, he would go and borrow money to give to you. He assumed you were his friend.”
Valencia said detectives continue to canvass all of the areas where Rodriguez spent time – the library, the shores of the Tuolumne River, the transit center downtown – and question the people who knew him.
Detectives are trying to determine what motivated the attack on Rodriguez.
“From what we’ve been told, he didn’t have any vices, addictions to drugs or alcohol … no gang connection,” Valencia said.
While the date Rodriguez was killed is unclear, Arellano said he last was seen with a man unknown to family members. He told his grandmother he needed $50 for a new cellphone, then left late at night and never returned.
Valencia would not say how Rodriguez died because, he said, those intimate details are known only by investigators and the killer.
“He trusted the wrong person; he didn’t know any better. To him, everyone is his friend, and that’s what got him to where he was because he was so kindhearted and because he was so trusting,” Arellano said. “Nothing makes sense right now. We are still trying to face the fact that this happened, that he’s gone.”
Rodriguez’s body has not been released from the Coroner’s Office, Arellano said. Until it is, his family is trying to raise money for funeral expenses by holding car washes, and has established a memorial account in his name at Valley First Credit Union.
Arellano said the family hopes to get answers soon.
“Nobody deserves this. … I wouldn’t even wish this on the person who did it. We need justice, we need answers and we need closure,” she said.