By Robb Murray
— They called her Sunny.
"That name was just perfect for her," said Mark Hanel, remembering his 20-year-old friend Yesenia Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was murdered last week in a brutal attack at her Mankato home. Her attacker cut her throat and fled, leaving Gonzalez to desperately seek help from her husband and father-in-law before bleeding to death. The attacker also assaulted Gonzalez's husband, Galo Buccio.
A short time later, police arrested Levi Minissale, a Twin Cities man whom friends say had a dark intensity about him when it came to Gonzalez. Minissale was found in a restroom of a nearby North Riverfront Drive gas station.
But rather than thinking about how Gonzalez died, friends say they'd rather remember her for the shining ray of light she was in their lives. She loved music, loved to dance and loved being the coordinator of get-togethers.
The St. James native also had a knack for making connections with people.
Hanel said the last time he saw Gonzalez was last Wednesday. He'd just gotten a new stereo installed in his vehicle.
"She was the kind of friend who I could call up and say, 'Hey, I got this new stereo and I know you want to hear it,'" Hanel said.
And she did.
They shared a love for loud music, a love that was common in Gonzalez's circle of friends.
The last time Gonzalez spent time with Minissale, they'd attended a music festival called the Electric Daisy Carnival in Joliet, Ill.
Hanel said he remembers the day he met Sunny. He came to her home and, upon seeing visitors at her door, she welcomed them in, gave them hot coffee and made sure they were comfortable in her home.
Another friend, Ian Chapman, described Gonzalez as a dear friend.
"She was a beautiful soul who was never one to let the little things bother her," he said. "She possessed an uncanny talent to move forward from the troubles of life and always did so with a smile and bright attitude."
Like Hanel, Chapman said her nickname fit her personality.
"She lit up the room everywhere she went, always spreading her seemingly endless joy of life with those around her. You couldn't talk to her without cracking a smile. It didn't matter how often we'd see each other. Every time we'd meet, a hug was always in order."
Chapman said she loved to dance and found fascination in life's odd details, like zebra-print cupcakes.
"She had so much love for everyone around her and for that to be ripped away from all of us in such a way is nothing less than a travesty," Chapman said. "Saying that she will be missed would be an understatement."
Buccio, reached at his home Tuesday, still showed visible signs of the struggle he'd had with his attacker — bandages on his arm and hands and stitches in his ear. He declined to contribute to this report, saying it was still too soon and that he'd be unable to get through a discussion about the loss of the woman he loved.
Friend Ben Kucera said he'll never forget what Gonzalez did for him.
"She was my first friend when I moved to Mankato and I wouldn't know those I know today if it wasn't for her abillity to bring people together," Kucera said. "She always tried to be the best person she could possibly be and inspired me to do the same."
Minissale remains jailed. His bail was set last week in Blue Earth County District Court at $1 million. He's been charged with one count of second-degree murder in Gonzalez's death, and one count of second-degree attempted murder in the attack on Buccio.
It is unclear if the Blue Earth County Attorney's office will convene a grand jury to seek a first-degree murder indictment.
Note: An earlier version of this story contained an error, stating that the funeral for Yesenia Gonzalez is today, June 12. The funeral has not yet been scheduled.