A week after Michael Cordero allegedly strangled his estranged girlfriend, Boitumela “Tumi” McCallum, in her mother’s NYU faculty apartment, an 18-year-old woman named Mabelyn Arriola encountered a similar fate in the Mount Hope section of the Bronx. On August 9, she was found stabbed to death in a stairwell.
But at the same time that McCallum’s death was front-page news, Arriola’s was relegated to the digest pages. McCallum was a strikingly beautiful, accomplished young woman seemingly on the verge of greatness. Arriola was also attractive, except for the scar left on her cheek after her boyfriend, Lander Jones, 26, had bitten her during a brutal attack months earlier. Not fortunate enough to be the daughter of an NYU professor, Arriola was nearly invisible, though her fate, like McCallum’s, had seemed almost inevitable to many of the people around her.
“Everyone knew that she was in this bad relationship. It wasn’t a secret,” says Edward Campbell, an AmeriCorps volunteer coordinator at the nonprofit SoBro-YouthBuild. He had worked with Arriola when it became obvious that the young woman was in a destructive relationship. “If [others in Arriola’s life] didn’t know, it was brought to life when he bit her face.”
Arriola and Jones had begun their relationship when she was 12, and he was 20.
“You could tell she had a lot of hurt and anger,” says Taina Rodriguez, a coordinator at Part of the Solution, a Bronx homeless shelter where Arriola volunteered. Between the beatings, Arriola would still come to help. During the last nine months, she volunteered 700 hours and encouraged her peers at SoBro to do the same. “She could smile and laugh, but you could always see it in her eyes that there was something bad going on.”
While Tumi McCallum was the privileged child of college professors, Mabelyn Arriola’s mother had kicked her out; her father was not around. Six months ago, Arriola moved in with a friend and the friend’s mother, Angela Glover, who was acting as Arriola’s guardian. She was living four floors below Jones, her tormentor. And this proximity, say her friends, produced a turning point.
“Mabelyn had low self-esteem at first, and we changed that,” says Campbell. In her SoBro program, Arriola had moved up six grade levels in her reading and math and was well on the way to getting her GED. Whenever she was physically able, she took part in other parts of the program, learning and working in the construction field. But the exposed wound on her face meant she couldn’t be on work sites. And she was unable to work after, she told friends, Jones had viciously raped her.
“[Jones] couldn’t control her anymore, and that made it worse,” Campbell says.
At the time of Arriola’s death, there were numerous criminal cases pending against Jones, including rape, unlawful imprisonment, possession of a weapon, and menacing in the second degree. Arriola had also taken out an order of protection. But it did little to prevent Jones from walking down the four flights of stairs and killing her in the hallway.
The NYPD searched tirelessly for McCallum’s boyfriend—and when they found him, Cordero attempted suicide by slashing his wrists.
There was no need to search for Jones: He killed himself minutes after the murder, jumping out the fifth-floor window of the apartment building that he and Arriola lived in.
Both young women were flown back to their mothers’ home countries to be buried: McCallum to South Africa and Arriola to Honduras. McCallum’s family created a scholarship fund in her name at Mills College, where she’d attended. But aside from a service last Tuesday, Arriola’s death wasn’t memorialized by people who didn’t know her personally, let alone accorded such lavish attention by the media.
“I looked on the Internet and in the paper, and we couldn’t find anything about her death,” says Rodriguez. “When we did find a couple of sentences, it made it seem like she was a child from the ‘hood who brought it on herself. Her story needs to be told to make other girls like her aware: There is a way out, and it doesn’t have to be death.” Chloé A. Hilliard