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Man who lost wife, daughter in hammer attack resolves to move forward with life

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Leila Navidi

Arturo Martinez at the Real KO Boxing Club in North Las Vegas on Friday, July 6, 2012. Martinez’s wife and 10-year-old daughter were beaten to death in their home in April 2012, and Martinez was hospitalized with severe head injuries from the attack.

Arturo Martinez

Arturo Martinez at the Real KO Boxing Club in North Las Vegas on Friday, July 6, 2012. Martinez's wife and 10-year-old daughter were beaten to death in their home in April 2012, and Martinez was hospitalized with severe head injuries from the attack. Launch slideshow »

Arturo Martinez Press Conference

Arturo Martinez hugs family friend Billie Walker before a press conference at his gym the Real KO Boxing Club in North Las Vegas on Thursday, July 12, 2012. Martinez's wife and 10-year-old daughter were beaten to death in their home in April 2012, and Martinez was hospitalized with severe head injuries from the attack. Launch slideshow »

This Saturday should be a day for cake, presents and family — a day of happiness for Karla Martinez to celebrate her 11th birthday.

Instead, her father, Arturo Martinez-Sanchez, will remember it as a bittersweet day.

It will be the first July 14 he’s not celebrating his firstborn turning another year older. But it will also be the first day he regains a piece of his life absent since the slayings of his wife and daughter in April.

On Saturday, Martinez-Sanchez reopens The Real KO Boxing Club, the place his family of five considered a second home after he used his savings to open it in April 2011. It was part of his pursuit of the American Dream — a small business close to his heart where he hoped to provide a positive environment for children.

But everything changed April 15. That’s when police say 22-year-old Bryan Clay entered Martinez-Sanchez’s Las Vegas house and — armed with a hammer — sexually assaulted Karla, 10, and Arturo's wife, Yadira, 38, before beating them to death. The attack also left Martinez-Sanchez severely beaten.

“I have good, good family,” Martinez-Sanchez said Friday evening inside his gym. He paused, wiping away tears, and added, “I don’t know why God took those girls from me.”

•••

The images of April 15 will never leave his mind.

When Martinez-Sanchez regained consciousness about 5 p.m. after the attack, blood covered the walls and floor of the family’s modest Robin Street home. He saw his wife’s and daughter’s bodies and felt blood running down his neck.

Then he found his sons — Cristopher, 9, and Alejandro, 5 — who had witnessed the attacks. Terrified, they asked, “What happened?”

It was a question Martinez-Sanchez couldn’t answer or even fathom. He clung to the walls and began searching the house for the intruder. He found no one but noticed an open back door.

He grabbed a cell phone and tried to dial 911, but his fingers wouldn’t work. Finally, he told his oldest son to go to school and get help, before he passed out.

Three days later, as he recovered at University Medical Center, Martinez-Sanchez heard his sister, Gaudia, softly pleading for him to find the will to live.

“Arturo, you have to come back to us. You have two babies that need you,” she said.

•••

Martinez-Sanchez attended law school in Mexico City, where he met his future wife. The two married after he revealed his desire to seek a better life in the United States.

It took him multiple attempts and days of no sleep to cross the border. When he made it to Anaheim, Calif., he arranged for Yadira to join him.

The newlyweds chose to start their American life in Las Vegas, holding two or three odd jobs each — what Martinez-Sanchez calls “true and honest” work — to make ends meet. Time passed. The couple bought their first home, and Martinez-Sanchez began work as an electrician.

They had three children.

And it was his two surviving children that Martinez-Sanchez pictured as he lay in his hospital bed.

•••

On Friday, Martinez-Sanchez, who took up boxing as a teen, and his brother-in-law, Ken Seal, toured progress at the gym as friends popped in to say hello.

After the deaths of his wife and daughter, Martinez-Sanchez, who spent several weeks in the hospital, temporarily closed the gym. He underwent two brain surgeries, followed by intense physical therapy. He still attends six-hour therapy sessions five days a week.

Full recovery remains a distant hope.

Martinez-Sanchez has a large scar above his forehead and a marble-sized dent on the back of his head from the hammer attack. But as he slowly regained his speech, he voiced his desire to reopen the gym as the gathering spot he envisioned for the neighborhood children.

A host of trade unions volunteered to donate their time and skills to help Martinez-Sanchez, who was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 357, spruce up the gym. They tore down walls, put up some new ones and painted.

“My wife and daughter are behind this,” he said, referring to both his recovery and his desire to reopen the gym.

Martinez-Sanchez and his sons have moved in with his sister, Gaudia, and her husband. He doesn’t consider it his only home, though.

“This is my home,” he said, motioning to the surrounding gym and its boxing ring. “This is going to be my home once I open.”

The gym’s slogan, coined by his daughter and painted on the wall, portends success: “We grow champions.”

•••

The work is part of moving forward with life or, as Martinez-Sanchez says, not giving in to evil.

He credits his strong Roman Catholic faith with helping him to not let rage or a desire for revenge overwhelm him, despite the lingering pain and challenges his family faces. In that regard, he hopes to be an example for others struggling with anger and resentment.

“I believe in justice,” he said, looking down at his wrists adorned with bracelets commemorating his wife, “Yady,” and his princess, “Karlita.” That’s all he thinks needs to be said.

As he sat in his office at the gym and spoke about his plans, he frequently talked about his daughter’s athletic accomplishments and how she was a true daddy’s girl, offering to accompany him on any trip. He talked about his wife’s encouragement and helping hand.

He didn’t dwell on the way they died. If he mentioned the man accused of killing them, he referred to him by his first name, Bryan.

Asked how he tries to make peace with the tragedy, his answer is three short words: “I forgive him,” he said.

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