The second bedroom in a pale green house on Orange Street in Waterbury was transformed into Mabel Martinez Antongiorgi’s craft room, complete with a mannequin modeling her designs and a wooden shelf built by hand by her husband that her color coordinated spools of ribbon.
Painted a subtle shade of lilac and a deep purple, the walls are lined with mountains of her carefully sorted supplies — thread and twine, fabric and buttons — and decorated with her memories. Photos of her family and a dollar bill, the first she earned from selling her crafts, are hung with tape on the wall above her desk.
But one wall now bears the scar of a life cut short, the paint crumbled in a small circle where a single stray bullet flew from the street, pierced the home and struck Antongiorgi as she sewed.
Underneath a painting of a blooming tree that she had made herself, and inches from the window that poured streams of light onto her desk, is a hole that tracks the trajectory of one bullet that struck the 56-year-old on a Saturday afternoon.
“This is where I found her,” said her son Juan Luis Mercado Martinez. It was his first time back in the room since that day.
That day, he’d been at his mother’s house talking to his greatest confidant only 10 minutes before the shots rang out. He told her he’d be right back, and they exchanged “I love you’s.”
Moments later, he returned to the neighborhood to a cacophony of lights and sirens. Police said there had been a shootout in the street, he said, so he went inside to check on his mom.
“I walked in and she was laying on the ground and I saw the bullet hole,” he said, touching the left side of his own forehead. “I just started screaming and screaming.”
As police his mother out of the home and to Saint Mary’s hospital, where she died from a gunshot wound to the head 24 hours later, his younger brother rushed Herbito Mercado Martinez arrived at the house with his 7-month-old son, Jacob, who Antongiorgi helped care for. Juan Luis Mercado Martinez’s wife phoned her father-in-law to tell him to come home because something had happened to his wife.
The pair married 33 years ago in Puerto Rico and raised three children — Juan Luis Mercado Martinez, 32, their eldest; Herbito Mercado Martinez, who gave the couple their first grandchild; and their youngest and only daughter, Yarimar Mercado Martinez, an Olympic rifle shooter for Puerto Rico.
Antongiorgi and her husband, John Luis Mercado, 67, moved to the United States from Yauco, Puerto Rico, a few years ago after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. Earthquakes rattled their town after the storm and started the couple, who often slept outside in their car out of fear that their concrete house would crumble in a quake, Juan Luis Mercado Martinez said.
They moved to Connecticut — to Orange Street — to be safer.
But on Saturday afternoon, police allege that a drug deal on Orange Street turned into a shootout. One of the bullets police allege was intended for 25-year-old Waterbury man Ryan Lindsay, who turned up at Saint Mary’s Hospital with a gunshot wound to his hip Saturday afternoon, entered the Orange Street home.
The bullet struck Antongiorgi while she sat at her desk in a black computer chair, her gray slip-on shoes still sitting at the foot of the chair Tuesday.
She had just printed graphics from the cartoon Paw Patrol. A new button press still sitting in a box below her desk.
“She never got to use it,” her son said.
“I still can’t believe this happened,” he said, looking at the floor. “Seeing this spot it’s, like, all playing over and over in my head.”
Antongiorgi’s husband, whom she met at a church retreat,, helped make the craft room her dream space. He built her a gray and white lattice bench with a lattice front that now lay crooked and broken.
John Luis Mercado, who works as a systems analyst, is a skilled wood-worker who always made his wife’s ideas a reality. He built a sliding barn door to create a pantry in their kitchen where she cooked for her family and neighbors, and he built her a custom kitchen cabinet where she set up an at-home “coffee bar.”
“Whatever Mabel wanted she could have,” said the couple’s landlord, Elac Aviles. He said he was always getting messages from the couple asking if they could make improvements to the home, like a wooded entryway Mercado made by hand from wood pallets. Aviles gave his tenants cabinets and shelves to help Antongiorgi organize her endless stream of crafting supplies.
Looking around the crafting room on Tuesday, Aviles said her talents and ambitions knew no limits. She was always finding new ways to be creative, printing custom puzzles for children in the family or sewing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If someone wanted something, she’d find a way to make it,” he said.
Having rented to Antongiorgi and her husband for years, and to her son and his wife in an apartment on the same street, he considered them part of his own family.
“We’d have cookouts in the backyard,” said Aviles, who works as a magician. “And she always made my costumes, emblems on cuffs and prints on shirts. She had a whole workshop there.”
She also treated him as her test-kitchen guinea pig, he said, always rushing outside to bring him homemade meals when he turned into the driveway. He joked that he’d ask for seconds.
Aviles said he saw firsthand how perfectly she and her husband fit together and how close she was with her children.
“I was very close with her, I used to tell her everything,” said her eldest son.
His mother, he said, was a lifelong supporter of his sister’s athletic career and her biggest cheerleader. The couple had a framed and signed photo of their daughter’s Olympic portrait in their living room. Bright teal letters were stuck to their front door labeling their home as the family of the Olympian.
Antongiorgi’s 27-year-old daughter is a rifle shooter for the Puerto Rican Olympic Team who competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
In the days following her mother’s death, she shared heart-wrenching words on her social media accounts, writing that her mother taught her to live by the motto “everything happens for a reason.”
“But this time, this time I don’t know how to apply it mommy,” she wrote.
The athlete shared several photos of her with her mother.
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“I really would give anything to be able to change places with you and have everything happen to me and not you,” Yarimar Mercado Martinez said in a Facebook post.
The daughter said her mother had just been making plans two days ago to renew her vows with her husband in Puerto Rico. The family said they would be taking Antongiorgi’s remains to Puerto Rico so her friends and family could say goodbye.
The family is raising money to help with the costs of bringing Antongiorgi’s remains, and their grieving family, to the island. They are accepting donations on Venmo via the username @juan-mercado-65 and through a GoFundMe.
Juan Luis Mercado Martinez said that as police investigate the incident, he doesn’t feel angry, yet. He just doesn’t want this to happen to another family.
As of Tuesday evening, police had not yet made any arrests.
“I don’t care who did it, I just don’t want this kind of thing to happen again,” he said. “I don’t want people to live in fear of this kind of thing happening, and I don’t want to live in fear.”