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‘I felt like an orphan’: UCF student devastated after Sanford mother killed, found tied up


By Gail Paschall-Brown

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    SANFORD, Florida (WESH) — It’s been a rough couple of weeks for one Central Florida son.

Friends and family just had a celebration of life service Saturday for his mother, who was found dead inside her Sanford home.

Related: School employee found dead with zip tie around neck in Sanford, police say

“Like if my body was a piece of glass, it was just cracked, shambled, and shattered in every single way,” Steven Rivera Cartagena said.

That’s how Rivera Cartagena felt after getting the news his mother had died on July 17. Police say 49-year-old Joysee Cartagena Clemente was found in her Sanford home with a large zip tie around her neck. Sanford police confirmed Tuesday that her death was the result of a homicide.

“Appears to be an isolated incident. The person of interest is someone tied to the victim,” Bianca Gillett of the Sanford Police Department said.

Rivera Cartagena said he isn’t sure who would want to harm his mother.

“That’s the same question I have. I always say that my mom wasn’t the type of person to have enemies. You know, she was a sweet woman,” he said.

He says she was a giving woman, too, always helping others when she worked at Seminole County Public Schools and JetBlue.

Her job called 911 when they could not reach her after she apparently had not signed on to her computer from home.

“It’s very unlike her to just disappear, and I want to make sure she’s OK,” a 911 caller said.

Rivera Cartagena says her smile defined her, and she was full of joy.

“It’s literally in her name, ‘Joysee.’ It’s like she lived up to her name. You see the joy,” he said.

He says they had a routine every day before this UCF student left for school.

“I had to make sure I give her a hug and a kiss before I left. It was obligatory if I left and I didn’t do that, she would say, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Come back,’” he said.

They had the same interaction the last time he saw her in the morning on July 17.

“My mother is my only immediate family that’s here in Florida, so hearing the news that she passed away, I felt like an orphan,” Rivera Cartagena said.

He urges whoever did this to turn themself in.

“She was my world. I mean, that’s all I knew,” he said.

Rivera Cartagena graduates in December and will continue his dream of becoming a doctor in memory of his mother.

“I have to make her proud,” Rivera Cartagena said.

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