Omaha Police
May 13, 2015 02:45 PM

A mother who came to the United States looking for a new start was murdered in Nebraska last week, one of her young sons left in a dumpster and the other thrown off a bridge to his death. And in a revelation that has shocked the community and torn her family apart, her 25-year-old son, Roberto Martinez-Marinero, was arrested last Thursday after allegedly confessing to the crime.

Jesus Ismenia Marinero, 45, was one of nine children and the mother of seven. By age 29, she was a single mother of five, sewing clothes in a sweatshop in El Salvador.

But Ismenia, as she was called by her friends and family, longed for something better, eventually leaving El Salvador for the U.S. in the late ’90s. “She wanted all of her children to move here, but they were afraid of the journey,” Veronica Rosa, Ismenia’s 27-year-old niece, tells PEOPLE. Roberto was the only child to follow her – a full decade after she left. “He was the only one who took the risk,” adds Rosa.

Roberto was just 9 years old when his mother left in 1999. Reina Rosa, 49, Veronica’s mother and Ismenia’s eldest sister, helped smuggle Ismenia into the U.S. She paid a guide to include Ismenia with a group that crossed into the country illegally. It was a harrowing trip that lasted two months and almost cost Ismenia her life.

“She walked over the border, through the mountains,” Reina tells PEOPLE. “She had thorns all over her body. When she was crossing there were bushes. She thought she was going to die on the way here because she had lost a lot of weight.”

It was the beginning of her American Dream. “She came over for her kids, to have a better life,” Veronica says.

A New Life

Ismenia ended up working in a furniture factory in Los Angeles. Four years later, in 2003, she moved to Omaha, Nebraska, because some of her girlfriends had told her about work in the meatpacking plants there.

The hours were long – 12-to-13-hour days, sometimes seven days a week – but the pay was good: upwards of $14 an hour for unskilled labor – and you didn’t need to speak English. Ismenia was sold.

In Omaha, she gave birth to two more children – 11-month-old Angel Ramirez-Marinero and 5-year-old Josue Ramirez-Marinero. Last week, their brother Roberto allegedly confessed to abandoning Angel in a dumpster and throwing Josue off a bridge over the Elkhorn River. Angel survived; Josue did not.

Ismenia spent the last two weeks of her life at Reina’s house. She recently had to abandon her home across town because someone had set it on fire while she was at work. And in the past year, her house was broken into on five separate occasions, Veronica says.

When the trouble first started, Reina urged Ismenia to move to Virginia, where other members of their family live. Reina feared that Roberto might be involved in a gang and that more trouble might follow.

“But she said, no, she couldn’t leave Roberto here,” Reina says. “She thought that in some ways she would protect him. She also worried that she might never see him again if she left.”

Adds Reina: “And look what happened to her.”

Roberto faces two first-degree murder charges in the deaths of his mother and his brother.

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