Instead of celebrating the 20th birthday of their daughter last Friday, the parents, other family members and friends are now planning the funeral of Melanie Rios Camacho.

The Firebaugh resident was murdered sometime last weekend in rural Madera County.

Camacho’s ex-boyfriend, Vicente Jasso, 23, was arrested and will be charged with murder.  He was taken into custody on Monday, Nov. 27, after leading authorities on a high-speed chase that headed north on Highway 99 all the way to Turlock in Stanislaus County.  Jasso reportedly reversed course, heading south on Highway 99 where is car was disabled by CHP officers in Atwater.  He reportedly abandoned his vehicle and was finally apprehended after a foot pursuit.

According to Madera County Sherrif Tyson Pogue, the incident started on Saturday, Nov. 25, when Camacho’s mother called authorities, stating that her daughter did not come home Friday evening from her job in Madera and did not report for work Saturday.

Camacho reportedly told her mother on Friday that she would be visiting friends after work.  However, it was also reported that she told co-workers and friends that she was meeting her ex-boyfriend to pick up items.

Madera County Sheriff’s deputies then responded on Saturday to a car on fire in the county at Road 9 and Avenue 14, which was found to be Camacho’s.

Detectives began an immediate investigation and found a body in an orchard off Avenue 20 west of Highway 99, and it was believed to be Camacho.

Camacho graduated from Firebaugh High two years ago.  According to Kacey Jones, an FHS instructor, coach, and athletic director, she played volleyball her freshman year before turning her interest to the school’s athletic training program.

“She was an athletic trainer for football and baseball her junior and senior year,” said Jones.

“This is a big loss for us,” Jones added. “She was very good in school and had a very sweet personality.”

Jasso has a lengthy criminal record, including assault, witness intimidation, and domestic violence, according to Sheriff Pogue.

“To the family of Melanie, we are deeply sorry for your loss,” Sheriff Pogue said at a news conference announcing the arrest of Jasso. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you, especially as we (observe) Melanie’s 20th birthday.”

As Firebaugh residents grapple with Camacho’s death and the specter of domestic violence, a spokesman for the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno called the crime “a tragedy.”

The center handles domestic violence issues in Fresno County, and Ashlee Wolf, director of communications, called domestic violence a serious public health issue.

“It impacts survivors long after the abuse takes place,” said Wolf. “In this case, the effect of that violence is truly devastating. Our hearts go out to her family, friends, and the entire Firebaugh community.”

Wolf added that this crime is the third domestic violence homicide of a teenager in Fresno County in the last 14 months.

“We urge parents to talk to their teens about what healthy relationships are, how to set boundaries, and what to do if they ever feel unsafe,” Wolf added. “Start on open conversation now.  There’s too much pressure on teenagers to date or have a boyfriend/girlfriend when we should be normalizing that it’s okay to just want to hang out with your friends or be single.  If anyone makes you feel like that’s not okay, there’s a problem. Love shouldn’t make you feel insecure, scared, hurt, or anxious. We urge parents to also look for and recognize the red flags when they see or hear them. Don’t think your teen is ‘too young’ to experience domestic violence or that it’s just ‘young love’.”

Teenagers should know that abuse is never okay and that there are resources available to them. Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Orders may be granted to anyone 12 years of age or older, according to Wolf.

Safety planning is also critical and organizations like the Marjaree Mason Center can help create a safety plan should you ever need to use it.

“Never meet with someone you think could potentially cause you harm in a private setting. If you are afraid that someone has the potential to hurt you, but you still feel as though you need to see them for whatever reason, protect yourself by meeting in a public place such as in front of a police station,” said Wolf.  “Teenagers also need to know that they have the power and ability to call 9-1-1 if they ever feel like there is a threat of danger. As parents, we talk to our young kids about calling 9-1-1 if there’s a fire or a burglar in our home, but we don’t talk to our teens about what to do if they fear someone they love will hurt them or if someone has threatened to hurt them.”

The Firebaugh community is coming together to support the Camacho family.  The lighting of the community Christmas tree was scheduled for last Friday evening to honor the young lady.  Following the ceremony, a procession will go one block to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where a special Mass will be celebrated.

Also, a GoFundMe page has been set up to assist the family.

Besides the arrest of Jasso, detectives also arrested Jose Hernandez, 22, of Madera.  He was charged with suspicion of accessory to murder.

David Borboa