If Melanie Colon were at Outfest on Sunday, she would have been in the middle of the action.
“She’d probably be at the bar,” her brother, Rafael Colon, said with a laugh, “getting a drink, already dancing.”
“She would be everywhere,” said her aunt Elizabeth Rivera. “She was so much life.”
It has been more than five years since Melanie Colon, a mother and popular DJ in Philadelphia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, left her Philadelphia home and never returned. The 22-year-old’s body was found on May 12, 2012, with gunshot wounds and behind a Juniata Park apartment building. No one has been arrested in her killing.
So on Sunday, Rafael “Ralphiee” Colon, 23, of North Philadelphia, took to Outfest’s main stage at 13th and Locust Streets, in the heart of the city’s Gayborhood, to spread the word about his sister’s death, and to remind revelers at the annual LGBT block party, billed as the world’s largest National Coming Out Day festival, to appreciate life.
“I don’t want to rain on nobody’s parade,” said Colon, who spoke shortly before 1 p.m., just as the morning’s drizzle began to slow down.
On his white T-shirt, two photos were printed side by side. One was of his sister, Melanie; the other was of Franchesca “Cheka” Alvarado.
In 2012, just a couple of months before Melanie Colon died, Alvarado went missing in Atlantic City. Her severed foot was found in 2013 at Corson’s Inlet State Park in nearby Ocean City, but her killing remains unsolved. Like Melanie Colon, Alvarado was a 22-year-old from Philadelphia who left behind a young child.
Rafael Colon connected with Alvarado’s family on social media, and they bonded over their shared pain. He has used his platform to share Alvarado’s story, too.
Colon didn’t delve into the details of the women’s killings, telling spectators that they could do a quick Google search and find countless stories about their deaths.
“Our babies were taken off this Earth for no reason,” Colon said, “and we don’t know why.”
He capped his speech with an energetic rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life.” As he sang and twerked, the Melanie tattoo on his forearm faced the crowd.
“Everybody dies,” he belted, “but not everybody lives.”
His aunt approached the stage, capturing the performance on Snapchat. His friend Chelsie Huff danced along with her wife, Alicia Huff.
The couple had never met Rafael Colon in person before Sunday morning, Chelsie Huff said.
Since Melanie Colon died, Huff said, she had followed Rafael Colon on Facebook, where he regularly updates a page dedicated to his sister’s story. When Huff heard Colon was going to speaking at Outfest, she decided to attend for the first time.
“I just wish he could get justice for his sister,” Huff said.
Colon chose to speak at Outfest not only because he is gay, but because his sister, who was bisexual, was so active in the community. At clubs throughout the city, she was known as “DJ Kiss” or “Zee.”
For years, Colon said, he had considered speaking at the event, but he was scared of rejection.
This year, he finally gathered the courage to ask. At first, he said, organizers offered him a table alongside the vendors that lined the streets.
Yet he worried that people would pass by, glance at the table, and not learn anything meaningful about his sister’s legacy.
Thankfully, he said, the organizers called back, offering Colon 10 minutes on the main stage.
After five years, Colon said, he doubts his family will ever find out who killed Melanie. But he holds on to a sliver of hope that someday someone will hear her story and know something, anything about what happened back in May 2012.
To some, “it’s a cold case,” Colon said, “but it isn’t a cold case to me.”