Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla was a Tejano superstar and was on the verge of an even higher level of fame when she was shot and killed on March 31, 1995. In her last days, Selena got to enjoy her ongoing success and make plans for the future — but she also had to deal with frustrating encounters with Yolanda Saldívar, the woman who had managed Selena's fan club and fashion boutiques before becoming her killer.
One month before her death, Selena was at the height of her career
In the month before she was killed, Selena continued to excel in the music industry. On February 26, 1995, she'd performed before more than 60,000 people at the Houston Astrodome, making her the biggest draw for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that year. On March 1, she attended the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, where she was nominated for Best Mexican-American Performance for her album Amor Prohibido.
Selena didn't win at the Grammys, but she could take solace in the fact that she'd received the Best Mexican-American Album Grammy the previous year for Selena Live!. Plus, she was hard at work on an English-language album that she hoped would transform her into a crossover star like Gloria Estefan.
With husband Chris Perez, Selena was also planning to build a house on a 10-acre piece of land they'd purchased in Corpus Christi, Texas. This would have given them more independence, as they were living right next door to her parents, and one house down from her brother and his wife. Selena and Perez were also talking about having children together.
Three weeks before her death, Selena had a falling out with Saldívar
In 1994, Selena had opened Selena Etc. boutiques in San Antonio and Corpus Christi. The stores sold original clothes and jewelry, as well as offering salon services. By 1995 the boutiques were experiencing financial setbacks, but this didn't change Selena's desire to open a clothing factory in Monterrey, Mexico.
Helping Selena manage the boutiques and the hoped-for factory expansion was Yolanda Saldívar, the founder of Selena's fan club and the woman who would become her killer. Saldívar's fan club work had earned the trust of the Quintanilla family and resulted in her promotion to managing the boutiques. But then Selena's father heard complaints from fan club members about not receiving items they'd paid for. On March 9, 1995, Selena, her father and sister confronted Saldívar about her management, but she reportedly couldn't explain away the irregularities Selena's family had found.
Selena next delved into Saldívar's behavior and actions at her boutique. She was reportedly told that some of her employees suspected Saldívar had been taking money from the San Antonio store.
Two weeks before her death, Selena learned that Saldívar had a gun
Though she no longer wanted to work with Saldívar, Selena didn't completely cut ties with her. She'd trusted Saldívar enough to give her access to financial accounts. Now Selena had discovered important financial records were missing, and she wanted Saldívar to return them.
In his 2012 memoir about his life with Selena, To Selena, with Love, Perez wrote that Selena met Saldívar around March 15 in an attempt to get this missing paperwork. During the encounter, which took place in Selena's car, Saldívar apparently gave her some documents, though not everything. Then she showed Selena that she had a gun in her purse.
According to Perez's account, an unfazed Selena told Saldívar to return the gun. And Saldívar seems to have listened to the singer. Though she'd purchased the .38-caliber weapon on March 11 and picked it up on March 13 after a background check, soon after the meeting with Selena she took the revolver back to the store.
A week before her death, Selena went to Tennessee to work on her English-language album
Amidst the troubles with Saldívar, Selena was still focused on her crossover album. She'd spent time in the studio in Corpus Christi, and about a week before she was killed she headed up to Tennessee for more recording sessions. There, she worked with songwriter and producer Keith Thomas on "I Could Fall in Love."
In 2016, Thomas talked to USA Today about Selena, saying, "I think, and I know a lot of people feel this way, that if she'd lived, she would have been a complete superstar."
The night before her death, Selena again met with Saldívar
On Thursday, March 30, Saldívar called Selena to say she had the rest of the documentation the singer wanted. Though Saldívar reportedly asked Selena to come alone, Perez accompanied his wife when she went to the Days Inn in Corpus Christi where Saldívar was staying.
As in earlier meetings with Saldívar, Selena didn't receive all the records she needed. But she left the motel without incident, returning home for a quiet evening with her husband and visiting father-in-law.
What Selena didn't know was that Saldívar was once more in possession of a gun. On March 26, she'd repurchased the .38-caliber revolver.
The day of her death, Selena visited a hospital with Saldívar
On the morning of March 31, Selena met with Saldívar, who had claimed she'd been raped while in Monterrey, Mexico. Selena took her to the hospital for an exam, becoming frustrated when Saldívar told a different story about how much she'd bled after the alleged assault.
The hospital wouldn't perform a full examination on Saldívar, as she was not a resident of Corpus Christi and was no longer in the jurisdiction of the alleged attack. The two returned to the Days Inn after leaving the hospital, with Selena still hoping for her missing records. While in Saldívar's room, Selena was shot. Bleeding, she made her way to the lobby; motel employees would later testify she named Saldívar as her shooter as she collapsed.
A 911 call about the shooting was made at 11:50 a.m. Selena was quickly taken to a hospital, where she was given blood transfusions (contrary to her faith as a Jehovah's Witness) but an artery had been severed and the medical treatment couldn't save her. Her death was pronounced at 1:05 p.m.
Saldívar said she shot Selena on accident
Saldívar, claiming the shooting had been an accident, threatened suicide during an hours-long standoff with police. She was eventually arrested. In October she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison (she could be eligible for parole in 2025).
More than 50,000 members of the public came to pay their respects to Selena before her funeral. When rumors spread that the singer was still alive, her family opted to open the casket to prove that Selena was truly gone.
Even two decades after she was killed, Selena remains a cultural icon. Dreaming of You came out after her death and debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, a first for a Latin artist. A 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez shared her story. Actress and singer Selena Gomez is named after her and a MAC makeup collection inspired by Selena came out in 2016.