The plan had always been for Julia Rodriguez to care for her elderly mother-in-law in her Miami home.
But in her 74th year, just as Gladys Horta began to slip into dementia, fate intervened and forced the family to do what they vowed not to: put A buela in an assisted-living facility.
The youngest member of the family 20-year-old Juliette was diagnosed with a rare, disabling neurological disorder. The burden of tending to both women was too great for family members, who faced a decision that thousands of Floridians confront each year: finding someone else to keep Abuela safe.
It was a decision that cost Gladys Horta her life and prompted a criminal investigation that led to the rare arrest of an ALF owner.
Though Horta Cuban migrant, retired dental assistant, grandmother was showing signs of Alzheimers disease, she was still active: cooking and cleaning, even riding the bus to pick up groceries, her family said.
A native of the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, Horta had worked as a secretary before fleeing to Miami during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. In the United States, she raised two sons while working as a dental assistant, even helping raise her four granddaughters.
On a friends recommendation, the family looked at The Gardens of Kendall, an assisted-living facility within walking distance of the dozens of shops at Dadeland Mall. Owner Mayra Del Olmo said Horta would have her own room, eat well and be treated like a member of the family.
After a short tour, Hortas family decided to place her at the six-bedroom facility, at least until her granddaughters health improved though the elderly woman wanted none of it.
She said, Theres no way Im going to stay here, recalled granddaughter Juliette.
But the family felt it was their only option, and in early March 2004, they moved her belongings into the home.
Her daughter-in-law recalled her words as they walked out the door: To work so hard and do so much and end up like this.
Hortas stay would be far shorter than the family planned.
Though they wanted to visit on the first weekend, Del Olmo said it was too soon; Horta needed time to adjust.
So the family waited another week, and scheduled a visit for Mothers Day. The plans were to pick her up and take her to dinner.
But that morning, the phone rang. It was Del Olmo. Abuelita had fallen in the shower and had a little bruise, the family said they were told. Del Olmo suggested cancelling dinner because Horta wasnt feeling well.
The family decided to go ahead with the Mothers Day outing anyway. When they arrived at the home, Julia poked her head into Hortas darkened bedroom and made a joke: I heard you were causing trouble, she quipped.
However, they said they quickly realized something was wrong. The room smelled of urine. Horta was curled up in bed, her skin white, cold and damp, with food dribbling from her mouth. Her leg was swollen and bruised.
Her left leg was black, and her right leg was beginning to look the same way, Julia said.
Said granddaughter Juliette: It looked like when you tie up a dog and you leave it outside for days, and the dog has been pulling and pulling.
As Julia reached over to wipe the ailing womans mouth, Horta pleaded, Get me out of here!