LAKE STATION — A week after a 6-year-old girl was sexually assaulted, strangled to death and dumped into a river, mourners memorialized her by throwing rose petals into the water.
Alicia Rodriguez was being watched by her mother's boyfriend, Joseph Luis Gorbea Jr., on Oct. 19, 1996, when he took her to a home in the 2800 block of Henry Street in Lake Station.
Gorbea, who was 19 years old at the time, sexually assaulted the girl, which seriously injured her, according to court records.
He later admitted that he strangled the girl, put Alicia in her mother's car and drove to the Liverpool Road bridge. According to court records, he threw the girl into Deep River.
Divers found the girl's body the next day, and an autopsy later determined she had been sexually assaulted.
The young girl's homicide rocked the community, spurring rallies against child abuse and vigils in her memory.
Gorbea initially told the girl's mother, Marisol Rodriguez, that Alicia was missing. Following two days of police questioning, Gorbea admitted to assaulting the girl and throwing her into the river.
Gorbea told police various versions of what happened, and he at one point implicated another man in the homicide. That man was not charged in the homicide, though rumors circulated at the time of the community taking justice into their own hands.
The Lake County prosecutor's office had sought the death penalty against Gorbea, but a plea agreement with defense attorneys was hammered out by 1998.
Gorbea pleaded guilty to murder, child molesting and rape charges. As part of the agreement, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which spared him from facing death.
When he entered the plea agreement, Marisol Rodriguez told The Times, "There is nothing on this Earth that could possibly be just for what he's done, but at least he is now admitting to what he did."
Gorbea's troubling upbringing was outlined at his sentencing hearing. He was born in New York City to young parents who would lock him in his bedroom while they partied.
His grandparents eventually brought him to Lake Station, but he ended up associating with various gangs, including the Gangsters Disciples.
Gorbea remains incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison.