By Taylor Lobb
Her life came to an end here. A dark, quiet country backroad in Livermore, with grass, trees and dirt on either side. Tesla Road, to be exact.
That’s where she crawled, desperate to live. That’s where her blood spilled, pooling on the concrete, soaking her hair. Lizette Cuesta likely had no idea this was her last day on earth, that she wouldn’t live until the next sunrise.
The natural reaction, this day and age, is probably to feign shocked for a moment and then resume with our normal lives.
Back to social media, television and eating. But maybe, for Cuesta, we should stop. Maybe this life, how it ended, is worth pausing and examining.
A 19-year-old San Jose woman was slain and abandoned in the outskirts of Livermore early on the frigid morning of Feb. 13, 2018. She dragged her lifeless body 100 yards – the length of a football field – on the desolate pavement where she was discovered nearly dead by people driving by. She was pronounced dead at 4:30 a.m. at Eden Medical Center, in Castro Valley, Calif.
She was stabbed 29 times, according to ABC 7 News. In the head. In the neck. In the back.
The people who captured her could’t tell her hair had been dyed blue, underneath all of the blood. There is something unsettling about a college-age woman dying like this.
What if all this happened because Cuesta, in essence, just wanted happiness? Like most young adults, she was apparently in a diligent pursuit for a place in this world and some joy. She sought such in a relationship, like so many of us.
Relationships have a way of consuming, gobbling up every ounce of energy with hopes that another will reciprocate. That is happiness, at least how many of us see it. It is even more magnetic when reciprocation is so hard to find.
This is what makes Cuesta’s death so much more jarring to the soul. A young girl losing her life is always tragic. But knowing she met her end in search of what we all search for, that is a compelling, terrifying connection.
In the aftermath of her death, the Livermore area has been riddled with rumors and gossip. Maybe she was promiscuous as people have whispered. Maybe her family was emotionally detached. Maybe she had done some things that would make people question her character.
But at the core, she was a 19-year-old girl trying to find herself. To know that such a common and innocent starting place can come to a gruesome end on a rural Livermore road, that’s a plot that should resonate with us all.
Here is what we know.
Her assailants, 19 year old Daniel Gross and his 25 year old pregnant fiance, Melissa Leonardo were part of a dynamic with Cuesta.
The two were arrested at their Modesto home on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 according to ABC 7 news, and faced murder charges in court on Valentine’s Day.
The three were coworkers and friends, as stated by KTVU. The trio worked together at Jack in the Box in Tracy Calif, Cuesta recently joining the team upon her arrival to the area three months prior.
Her parents had recently ended an ugly divorce, according to a source close to her at the skatepark in Tracy. It was apparently a very difficult time for Cuesta, as stated by the friend who knew her personally.
The fellow acquaintance at the skatepark claims to have boughten a hotel room as a place of safety for Liz to get away from the turmoil, on several occasions.
This was Cuesta’s motive for moving to Tracy from San Jose, where her mother resides.
As for the two charged with her homicide, the motive is still unclear.
The relationship between the three was complex to say the least. Friends who worked at the establishment claimed the two women were sexually involved with Gross, and that both knew about one another, not truly minding the other’s presence.
According to Gross, Cuesta and him began a sexual relationship shortly after her hire at the restaurant with the consent of his current fiance, Melissa Leonardo.
The three were widely known to be involved with one another, often being discussed at the local skate park in Tracy where Cuesta frequently visited.
She was open with a few friends there, who all corroborated her passion for skating. It was something Cuesta took interest in from a young age.
According to sources close to her at the skatepark, she was tough. Cuesta would fall down harder than a man would and get right back up and try again.
On the night of her demise, Cuesta unknowingly would be resilient in ways she never had to before.
She reluctantly got into the back seat of Leonardo’s car, with the consensual intent to engage in sexual acts with Gross.
The two proceeded to engross themselves in acts of sexual bondage, where Cuesta was tied at her wrists with a yellow rope, consensually. Leonardo drove the car as the acts prevailed, until the night abruptly ended with the stabbing and dumping of Cuesta’s body sometime before she was found by four men headed to work for UPS, at 2 a.m.
According to a jailhouse interview with the attacker conducted by KTVU, the murder was prompted when Cuesta apparently elbowed Gross in the rib cage during the consensual sexual bondage in the back seat of Leonardo’s car.
Neither Gross or Leonardo entered a plea, apparently driven by feelings of remorse.
“I f***ing hate myself” , Gross said.
He went on to explain that he merely “snapped” in self defense, in order to protect himself from Cuesta’s aggressive behavior during sex.
The same man who claims he “protected” Cuesta by providing her a knife to protect herself at the Tracy skatepark earlier this year, stabbed her 29 times and left her to die, in “self defense”.
The couple are expected to appear in court next on March 16, 2018, according to East Bay Times, where they will have the final opportunity to enter a plea.
As for the woman who fought relentlessly for her life until it fatally ended, Lizette Cuesta was remembered at a vigil held at Great Oaks skatepark in San Jose, Calif. on Feb. 13, 2018. This was the one place the resilient skater found peace.
Cuesta will continue to be recognized for her courageous retaliation, uttering the names of her aggressors with her final breath