In the decades after Selena's murder in 1995, fans of the "Queen of Tejano" still mourn one of the music industry's biggest losses.
During the early 1990s, Selena was a rising star on the American music scene. She rose to fame with her unapologetic style and distinct Tejano music, a unique genre sparked from the cultural blending of Mexican and American traditions in Texas.
By 1995, the young star had sold out shows at major stadiums across the country and won a Grammy for best Mexican-American album for Selena Live!, making her the first Tejano artist to win the accolade. By all accounts, Selena was living her longtime dream.
But Selena’s dream turned into a real-life nightmare when the singer was gunned down by one of her own fans, Yolanda Saldívar, whom she entrusted to run her fan club and boutique business. At the cusp of her breakthrough career — and only 23 — Selena’s death shocked music fans everywhere.
Selena Before Stardom
Before she was known as music idol “Selena,” she was born Selena Quintanilla on April 16, 1971 in Texas. The state’s proximity to Mexico gave way to a distinct Mexican-American musical style known as Tejano.
Selena’s father Abraham, a former musician, taught Selena and her two siblings, Abraham and Suzette, everything he knew. They formed the band Selena y Los Dinos. Music became the family business.
The band’s talent turned them into a popular local act at parties and events around Corpus Christi, where the family had settled.
At 15, Selena won female vocalist of the year at the Tejano Music Awards. The young star produced her first self-titled album Selena in 1989 and recorded subsequent albums thereafter. She became an international sensation, breaking into the Latin American music industry with hits like “Como La Flor” and “Amor Prohibido.”
Selena’s success was all the more impressive given the singer’s initial lack of proficiency in Spanish. According to Chris Perez, the band’s guitarist whom Selena later married, she was the first in the band to become fluent in the language. It was important for her not only as a proud Latina singer but also as a way to connect with her Spanish-speaking fans.
“As a third-generation Texan who had to learn Spanish phonetically, with her father coaching her on her accent, she knew that there was a chance that the Mexican fans might dismiss her. Instead, they adored everything about her, from her dark hair and brown eyes to her curvy figure,” Perez wrote in his 2012 memoir To Selena, With Love.
In 1994, Selena achieved the unimaginable: Her concert album Selena Live! won a Grammy for best Mexican-American album at the 36th Grammy Awards. By age 23, Selena was on top of the world.
Sadly, the joy wouldn’t last long.
Her Final Days Before The Murder
Amid her success, Selena faced setbacks with her management. Her family suspected that Yolanda Saldívar, the president of Selena’s fan club, who was hired to take care of Selena’s boutiques, was stealing money.
Additionally, Selena’s father, Abraham, fielded complaints from fans who said they never received merchandise they purchased from the fan club. On March 9, 1995, the family confronted Saldívar about their suspicions.
That’s when things started to go south between Selena’s family and Saldívar, who Selena had started to consider as a friend.
According to the book Selena’s Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death, Saldívar denied the accusations but Abraham still threatened to turn her in to the police.
On March 13, Yolanda Saldívar enlisted the help of a lawyer to draft up her resignation letter, claiming she could not handle the harassment from Selena’s father. She also purchased a .38-caliber revolver, which she later said was to protect herself from Abraham.
Strangely, records showed that Saldívar returned the revolver to the store just days later, only to repurchase the gun on March 26.
Based on Saldívar’s account, Selena didn’t completely cut ties with her after the fallout. But an employee at Selena’s boutique said the star intended to fire Saldívar after she got all her financial documents back from her.
On March 30, Yolanda Saldívar called Selena and told her to come to her room at the Days Inn alone to pick up some business documents. Selena came with Perez, who waited outside while the two talked.
It was an uneventful meeting — but nobody knew it would be the last day before Selena’s tragic demise.
On March 31, Selena went alone to visit Saldívar again at the Days Inn to retrieve the rest of the documents. At some point during the two days of these meetings between the women, Saldívar dropped a bombshell: She had been raped on a recent trip to Mexico.
So that morning, Selena took Saldívar to the hospital. But the hospital would not perform a full exam on Saldívar since she was not a resident of Corpus Christi — and her alleged assault happened outside of the city’s jurisdiction.
The nurse who received the two later said Selena appeared frustrated when Saldívar gave inconsistent information about her alleged assault.
The two left the hospital and went back to the motel. When they got back to Saldívar’s room — room 158 — the women began to argue.
A maintenance worker at the Days Inn said he heard a loud boom “like a flat tire” before seeing a young woman in a jogging suit running and screaming.
“I saw another woman chasing her. She had a gun,” recalled Trinidad Espinoza. Espinoza said the woman stopped before she reached the lobby then turned back to her room.
Meanwhile, Selena ran inside the lobby for help.
She slowly collapsed on the floor in a pool of blood from the bullet wound in her back. Then, Selena used her last words to identify the name of her killer: “Yolanda Saldívar in Room 158.”
“She looked up at me,” said Ruben Deleon, the motel’s sales director. “She told me and her eyes rolled back.”
Doctors later said that Selena was already brain dead by the time she reached the hospital. She died a few weeks shy of her 24th birthday.
After the shooting, Yolanda Saldívar threatened to kill herself, which led to a nine-hour showdown with police. She was eventually arrested and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole until 2025.
The Legacy Of Selena
Selena’s death in 1995 is still regarded a major loss for the music industry.
“She was going to be an icon,” producer Keith Thomas, who worked with Selena weeks before her death, told USA Today. “I think, and I know a lot of people feel this way, that if she’d lived, she would have been a complete superstar.”
In July 1995, Selena’s album Dreaming of You was posthumously released. It debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. Her song “I Could Fall in Love” later became one of the Tejano Queen’s biggest hits.
Selena’s influence can still be seen in pop culture today. Her meteoric rise as a Latina talent paved the way for others, like Jennifer Lopez, who portrayed the late star in the 1997 movie Selena.
“Getting to play the part of Selena was life-changing for me,” Lopez said of her breakout role. “I got to immerse myself in her life, got to know her family, her home, her culture… Playing her not only opened doors for me in the film world, but it inspired me to start my own music career.”
Selena’s distinct sound continues to inspire a new generation of artists today. And in 2017 — 22 years after Selena’s death — she was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Now, Netflix is set to release a new series in 2020 chronicling the singer’s life. The teaser trailer for the series featured actress Christian Serratos donning Selena’s iconic purple jumpsuit, which the singer wore during her last televised performance.
While her fans will certainly always remember her incomparable shows onstage, Selena’s loved ones remember her presence in their hearts.
“Sometimes I come across some fan pics and it feels like this all happened a whole other lifetime ago,” her husband Perez recently said. “No matter what though, I’m always grateful that I got to share moments like this with her, the band, and especially her fans.”
Now that you’ve learned about Selena’s devastating murder, check out 33 iconic James Dean pictures that show the man behind the “Rebel.” Then, take in the full story of Judy Garland’s death — and her tragic final days.