Marlen Ochoa-Lopez was remembered Saturday morning as a loving mother who worked tirelessly at making a better life for her young family before hers was cut short last month.
Hundreds filed into Mount Auburn Funeral Home in Stickney to pay their respects to the slain 19-year-old, whose horrific death shocked Chicago when authorities revealed her baby had been taken from her womb.
A slideshow of family photos flashed across a screen throughout the service, garnering sighs and tears from attendees. Many wore white and black T-shirts bearing images of Ochoa-Lopez, who leaves behind her 3-year-old son Joshua, in addition to her newborn who remains hospitalized on life support.
The Rev. Carlos Tamay — who officiated the marriage ceremony between Ochoa-Lopez and her husband, Yovani Lopez — delivered the hourlong sermon at her funeral.
“One day there will be no hospitals,” Tamay said in Spanish at the service, which was closed to reporters but streamed online. “One day, not too far from now, there will be no more death.”
Friends, relatives and former teachers lined up to speak during the funeral as well, recalling Ochoa-Lopez as a positive force in their lives.
“Today is a sad day — not only for [Marlen’s] family, but for all of Chicago,” family spokeswoman and organizer Julie Contreras said in Spanish.
Six pallbearers carried Ochoa’s casket out of the funeral home, including her father, Arnulfo Ochoa, who for weeks led a citywide search for his daughter after she disappeared April 23.
Police found her body on May 15.
In a phone interview after the service, Ochoa said he is grateful for the support his family has received from the Chicago community over the last few weeks.
“We didn’t expect so many people to come,” he said in Spanish. “Today we laid her to rest, but did not say goodbye. She will live forever in our hearts, and we will meet her again in heaven.”
Mariachi bands from Chicago filled the air with sorrowful songs of loss and grief as more than 150 people streamed behind the casket as it made its way to a burial plot about a quarter-mile from the funeral home.
Several passersby driving along Oak Park Avenue parked their cars and took photos of the procession.
Nadia Alva said she hadn’t seen Ochoa-Lopez in the five years since they both graduated together from Sandra Cisneros Elementary in Brighton Park, but felt compelled to come and say her final goodbye.
“I couldn’t believe the news when I first heard it,” she said. “It only hit me after her candle lighting. It’s hard saying goodbye.”
Helda Díaz and her son Jacob live across the street from the funeral home.
Díaz said she was working out in the yard when she heard hymns ahead of the service.
“Marlen’s story makes you cry, especially as a mother,” she said.
The services took place about a month after the grisly slaying. Ochoa-Lopez was nine months pregnant with her second child when she was lured to the Southwest Side home of a woman she’d met on Facebook who promised her free baby clothes and supplies, authorities said.
That’s where Ochoa-Lopez was strangled and her baby cut from her womb on April 23, allegedly by 46-year-old Clarisa Figueroa and her 24-year-old daughter Desiree Figueroa, authorities said.
The older woman was able to pass the baby off as her own for nearly two weeks until police unraveled the nightmarish plot and found the real mother’s remains at the home of the Figueroas, authorities said. They remain jailed without bail along with Piotr Bobak, the older woman’s boyfriend, who is accused of concealing a homicide.
The newborn, named after his father, Yovani, suffered brain damage in the ordeal. Family members of Ochoa-Lopez said he first opened his eyes last week.
He remains in critical condition at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. His grandfather, Arnulfo Ochoa, said they were heading there after the funeral to see him.
“He’s doing better,” he said.
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times’ coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.