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Carmina Salcido this morning will place flowers on the graves of her mother, two sisters and three other relatives in Petaluma, marking the 20th anniversary of her father?s murderous rampage that shocked and enraged the community.

Carmina, who turns 23 next week, is the lone female member of her family to survive Ramon Salcido?s horrifying crimes of April 14, 1989, which sent the former Sonoma Valley winery worker to Death Row at San Quentin Prison.

As the nation reels from a recent series of mass killings and child murders, including that of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu of Tracy, friends and law enforcement officers still struggle to make sense of the Salcido family tragedy.

?It?ll never work,? said Mike Brown of Santa Rosa, a retired Sheriff?s Department captain who headed the investigation of Sonoma County?s largest mass killing. ?There isn?t going to be a rational explanation.?

Carmina, who was raised by adoptive parents in Missouri and returned to Sonoma Valley in 2005, will not speak at today?s ceremony and is not granting interviews now, said Gloria Allred, her Los Angeles attorney.

Her throat cut nearly ear to ear, Carmina survived for about a day and a half after her father dumped her and her sisters, Teresa, 1, and Sofia, 4, at a refuse site on Stage Gulch Road east of Petaluma.

?Daddy cut me,? she told a hospital nurse.

Salcido, then a 28-year-old winery worker, slashed the throats of his three daughters, his mother-in-law and her two daughters, 12 and 8, who also were molested. He shot to death his wife and a winery co-worker and wounded his boss.

Patricia Rile, former owner of a Santa Rosa dress shop and modeling school, recalled the anxiety the community suffered during the manhunt for Salcido, who was arrested near his hometown of Los Mochis, Mexico, five days after the killings.

?I was scared to death,? said Rile, who was drawn into the case because Angela Salcido had completed a class at Covers, her modeling school. Even now, Rile remains wary that Ramon Salcido may have friends in the area.

Ramon Salcido and the three girls attended Angela?s first runway fashion show on April 2, 1989, less than two weeks before her death. In a videotape of the show, Rile said, ?you can hear the girls giggle.?

Passions were stirred far and wide by the murders, and the chant ?Kill him, kill him? erupted from a crowd of about 200 people gathered at the Sonoma County Jail to witness Salcido?s return from Mexico.

Brown, who spent almost 16 years in violent crimes investigation, said Salcido?s murders were ?the most senseless slaughter of human beings I?d ever been exposed to.?

Sheriff?s Capt. Dave Edmonds, who was lead detective in the Salcido case, said he was struck by the callousness of the killings and sheer innocence of the victims.

Vivid images of the murder scenes remain etched in his mind, Edmonds said.

?It?s hard to think a human being could do that to another, especially to loved ones,? he said.

Salcido?s crimes were ?a crushing blow to the whole community?s psyche,? he said.

Four years later, the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, taken from her Petaluma bedroom by parolee Richard Allen Davis, shocked the world and spurred California?s adoption of the three-strikes law mandating stiff sentences for repeat offenders.

Salcido and Davis are among eight men sentenced to death between 1981 and 2000 for murders in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties. All are still awaiting execution.

Salcido?s death sentence was upheld last year by the state Supreme Court, but his attorney, Conrad Petermann, said Monday the appeals are continuing slowly and it is ?impossible? to say when they might be completed.

Bony Saludes, a retired Press Democrat reporter, said Salcido?s carnage was among the three or four most sensational murders he covered in a 44-year career.

Saludes recalled interviewing patrons a day after the killings at a Sonoma Valley bar Salcido had frequented, when an editor called with news the girls had been found at the dump.

?God, I hope they?re all right,? said a man named Warren, who?d been saying nice things about Salcido.

?Two are dead,? Saludes replied.

The man covered his face with his hands.

?Geez,? he said and began to curse. ?Why in the hell did he have to go do that for??

Rile, a Santa Rosa resident since 1951, said Angela Salcido was a demure, polite, fresh-looking blonde who was determined to find work as a commercial model. Rile met Ramon Salcido, who sat in on some of his wife?s modeling classes.

?He seemed like an average guy,? she said.

Rile said she?s been delighted to befriend a grown up Carmina Salcido, who has her mother?s hearty laugh and her own angelic voice, equally captivating singing pop tunes and opera.

?If she sings ?Ave Maria,? you sit there and cry,? Rile said.

Rile wants to see Carmina compete on ?American Idol,? the top-rated TV talent show. ?She would be a winner,? Rile said.

Brown also has connected with Carmina, inviting her to dinner at his house and collaborating with author Steve Jackson, co-writer of Carmina?s book, ?Not Lost Forever,? due out in October.

He thinks the book has been ?a healing process? for Carmina, who loves horses and dogs but hasn?t settled on a career, Brown said.

Killings like Ramon Salcido?s remain a mystery to him. ?I keep asking myself ?why??? Brown said. The only answer he can fathom for why seemingly decent people commit atrocities is no answer.

?You can?t apply rational logic to irrational acts,? he said. ?The mind is a strange thing.?

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