Two weeks after Lilia Esperanza Parra Aucapina’s body was found hanging in the woods just a short walk from her Sagaponack home, her family is now facing a new puzzle: how the police could be treating the death of a vivacious mother as a suicide.
Tuesday morning, supporters of Ms. Aucapina’s family began gathering for a vigil in front of Southampton Town Hall at around 11:30 a.m. By just after noon, nearly 100 people stood, holding banners begging for justice, and occasionally breaking into a chant:
“¿Que lo queremos? ¡Justicia! ¿Cuando? ¡Ahora!,” they’d blurt out: “What do we want? Justice! When? Now!”
Those chants were followed, over the course of about an hour, by brief, insistent cries of “no Justice, no peace,” followed by a retreat back to silence.
Ms. Aucapina, 40, born in Ecuador and known to many friends by her middle name, Esperanza, was a mother of two and a housekeeper, who volunteered in her spare time. She was reported missing in early October, followed by an extensive search that culminated when a hunter found her body hanging from a tree in the woods not far from her house on Nov. 21.
Police are now treating the case as a suicide, which doesn’t sit well with people who knew Ms. Aucapina, nor with her family’s legal consultants, who wonder why the police did not find her body sooner, in an area of light underbrush in the woods near her home.
“We haven’t heard anything from anybody,” said Ms. Duchi. “The only thing that we’ve heard, and that they’ve told us, is that the case is closed.”
“We haven’t gotten the complete results of the autopsy, but to them the case is closed,” she added. “They keep saying this case is a suicide. Family, friends, community members, religious communities, people that work with her, people that she volunteered with, a lot of people that knew her know that this is not her.”
Ms. Aucapina’s brother, Victor Perra, said he’s also still waiting for answers.
“What happened to us, we don’t want to happen to other people,” he said.
Pastor Hoover Ariza of the Ministerio Restauracion a las Naciones echoed that sentiment.
“We don’t want this to happen to any other families,” he said, adding that he had personally gone to the police and received no answers. “In this place where our sister was found, there is a frustration and a concern. We need to have a force and be a voice so we could all be one, to do what’s good for the community.”
Attorney Foster Maer of LatinoJustice is representing Ms. Aucapina’s family, and he also represented the family of Gabriela Armijos, a 21-year-old immigrant from Ecuador who was also found hanged from a tree near East Hampton Village last year. Police also deemed that case a suicide.
“In both cases, there was a question of whether it was a crime or suicide,” he said. “In both instances, police prematurely deemed it a suicide.”
He added that, in both cases, the women had been victims of domestic violence.
Mr. Maer said he and Ms. Aucapina’s family met Monday with Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, but didn’t believe the meeting had helped their case.
“We all appreciated the opportunity to meet with her, but the family and those of us with the family walked away distraught and upset that they believe she committed suicide despite the evidence to the contrary,” he said.
Mr. Maer said the area where Ms. Aucapina’s body was found hanging was not thickly wooded, and K-9 search teams had been unable to find a scent when they searched that area on several occasions.
“We believe the body was hung there after the search in a staged suicide, which is what our police expert is telling us,” he said. “This investigation must be reopened and other deaths deemed suicides of Latinos and blacks in Southampton and East Hampton should be reopened.”
Jason Starr of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Long Island United for Police Reform said he believes Ms. Aucapina’s life was not respected.
“The people who work in this building behind us were chosen to protect and serve, no matter what you look like and what language you speak,” he said. “Today, we’re here to say that Esperanza’s life matters. Her family deserves a full and fair and complete investigation.”
Joselo Lucero, the brother of Marcelo Lucero, who was stabbed to death in a hate crime in Patchogue in 2008, said that Ms. Aucapina’s mother deserves an answer to her daughter’s death.
“Latin American immigrants, and immigrants in general, can be killed anywhere and in any way,” he said. “We are citizens of this town and we deserve to be protected.”