“A .38,” the man’s voice said. “She had a .38.”

Static. Then a dispatcher. “Hold one second, sir.” More static.

Then a toddler’s voice.

“Mama boo boo,” it said. “Boo boo.”

The dispatcher is back, asking, “Is the person conscious?”

“No,” Daniel Roberts said. “No.”

The toddler’s voice on the 911 tape appears to belong to Savanna Marie Roberts. The 2-year-old girl was at her father’s home the night he shot her mother, Melissa Mendoza, in the back of the head. He said it was self-defense. A jury last week convicted him of murder.

The shot had woken the little girl, Daniel Roberts had said. He phoned his father who lived up the road to come and take Savanna away from the scene of the shooting.

That was Aug. 15, 2005.

Savanna, now 3, lives in California with her half-brother, Andrew, 12, and half-sister, Priscilla, 10. They live in a big house with their aunt and grandmother.

After the shooting, Savanna had been taken into state custody where she lived with a foster family for about four months.

After her father’s indictment on a murder charge that same month, Savanna flew to California for a nine-day visit with her grandmother, Mary Mireles. After a couple of days, Maine Department of Human Services called to say the stay had been extended indefinitely.

Tanya Mendoza, Melissa’s older sister and best friend, left her job to serve as surrogate mother to the three kids.

It’s been hard.

“The kids are not doing well, still,” Tanya Mendoza said Friday.

Each of them, including Savanna, sees a therapist once a week. Savanna has nightmares and likes to sleep with her grandmother. She does play therapy with dolls. Little by little she’s started talking about her mother.

Andrew and Priscilla have different ways of coping with the loss of their mother.

“It hurts them more because they have more memories of her,” Tanya Mendoza said.

Andrew wrote an essay for school, recently. The subject was: Whose face would you put on a dollar bill and why?

Andrew wrote that he would put his mother’s face on the currency and explained in the paper how his mother died. A teacher flagged the essay and called Andrew’s home asking if everything was OK.

“Andrew holds everything in,” Tanya Mendoza explains. That essay was his way of letting it out.

When first told about her mother, Priscilla said she didn’t realize she had been sick.

“I didn’t know how to explain it,” Tanya Mendoza said. Now, Priscilla cries in her room at least once a week. Tanya Mendoza tries to comfort her niece.

“She asks, ‘Why, why did Dan do that?’ I say, ‘I don’t know, baby.'”

Savanna said she has two mommies. One of them is her aunt, Tanyamama. She dreads the day she must tell Savanna how her mother died.

….

Melissa Mendoza was a “girly tomboy,” her sister said.

She was athletic and liked hanging out with the boys. She was smart, worked hard and was independent.

While holding down two jobs and caring for two kids, she put herself through paralegal school.

She landed a job with a prestigious defense lawyer in Irvine. It was there she met Roberts. He had sought the firm’s legal services after a motorcycle accident left him badly injured.

After initially turning him down, because she was trying to work things out with the father of her other two children, Mendoza began to see Roberts, her sister said.

They kept the courtship quiet because Roberts was a client.

Although the relationship turned rocky, Melissa Mendoza tried to make it work because she wanted that stability for her children.

As the relationship unraveled, Tanya Mendoza said she told her sister it was OK to leave Roberts.

Melissa Mendoza planned to do that in August 2005, shortly before she was killed. She and her mother had talked about moving to Northern California, and Mendoza intended to seek primary custody of Savanna, her sister said. She was going to get a job in nearby Sacramento. A fresh start.

Tanya Mendoza talked to her sister on Sunday night, Aug., 14, 2005, just hours before Melissa was shot to death. Her sister and mother were at home in California. Her mom had spent the night at her sister’s. She wasn’t feeling right.

At 3 a.m., they were awakened by Mireles’ cell phone. It was the local police. They wanted her to go to the door to let police in. They had something urgent to tell her. But Mireles was at her daughter’s home.

But the two women didn’t believe the caller, at first. Daniel Roberts had been a member of the Hells Angels in California. When things had turned bad between Mendoza and Roberts, his friends had stalked her family and harassed them by phone, Tanya Mendoza said.

They thought the call in the middle of the night was just more of Roberts’ friends’ antics. They decided to go down to the local police station to verify the news.

“As soon as they buzzed us in, I thought, ‘Oh God.’ I had a feeling,” Tanya Mendoza said.

They both came to Maine for the trial. But Tanya Mendoza returned to California to stay with the kids. Mary Mireles stayed on.

She called her daughter on Tuesday. She was crying.

“He’s guilty,” she said. Tanya Mendoza started crying.

“My very first thought was we get to keep Savanna,” she said

Her mother, who has temporary custody, plans to adopt her granddaughter. Tanya Mendoza, also, would like to be Savanna’s legal guardian, she said.

“The kids have been through enough,” she said. “It’s time to heal.”


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