Guadalupe Maldonado brought his family to the northwest suburbs from Mexico because, in his eyes, it was the land of opportunity. The chance for a better life for his children outweighed any fears of finding a job or encountering crime.
Before Maldonado moved a month ago, one of his brothers, Pedro, had warned him that he might not recognize the area from a previous stay.
"His brother told him that jobs were bad," said Guadalupe Maldonado's sister-in-law Juana Maldonado. "And he told him things were not the same. He said things were not as safe and that things were getting more dangerous."
But there was no deterring Guadalupe Maldonado, who took his cook's job at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine until a better restaurant job opened up.
On Saturday, his family mourned him as a victim of the massacre inside the chicken franchise.
"He was such a good man," said Juana Maldonado, tears welling in her eyes. "He came here to make things better."
Almost from the start, though, Guadalupe Maldonado's journey to the Chicago area hit snags.
Maldonado, 46, could not immediately return to a job at Ye Olde Towne Inn in Mt. Prospect, an employer during his previous stay in the U.S. So he took the job at Brown's. Money was tight.
At Christmas, he and his wife, Beatriz, economized by buying a gift only for their youngest son, Salvador, 5. They asked their two other children, Juan Pablo, 13, and Javier, 11, to understand the necessity for sacrifice.
The family also had to move in with Pedro and Juana Maldonado in Palatine.
Guadalupe Maldonado and his family made the trip to the U.S. from the state of Guanajuato, a rural, mountainous area in central Mexico, according to family members. He was the second-oldest of five brothers, who were raised as farmers, they said.
After their father's death, the five brothers inherited a 1 1/2-acre plot, which they shared and tilled, Juana Maldonado said. The brothers took turns working in the U.S. and returning to care for the family land.
"We would spend time together farming," Juan Pablo said Saturday. "We would plant corn and watch it grow."
Maldonado made his first trip to the U.S. in 1981, staying for six years. During that stay, he and his wife worked at Ye Olde Towne Inn, Juana Maldonado said.
Guadalupe Maldonado, who lived in Mt. Prospect then, enjoyed his job as a cook because it enabled him to be close to his wife, who did cleanup work.
"He loved what he was doing there," Juana Maldonado said.
Buoyed by the U.S. experience Maldonado tried to aid others in coming to this country. Alfredo Mora, a longtime friend who also is from Mexico, said that Maldonado often lent friends money, found them jobs and homes.
It was for that reason that family and friends said they grew concerned early Saturday when Maldonado had not arrived home by 1:30 a.m., Juana Maldonado said. He was always home by 10 p.m., and he would have called if he was going to be late, she said.
Maldonado's wife asked Pedro Maldonado to drive over to Brown's Chicken to check on him. But when Pedro Maldonado arrived at the restaurant, and before anyone was aware of what had occurred inside, he was told by a passing police officer to leave and not to worry, that his brother was probably "out drinking or hanging out," Juana Maldonado said.
Pedro Maldonado was not convinced.
For one, Guadalupe Maldonado was not a drinker, Jauna Maldonado said. Just as compelling, she said, was that Guadalupe Maldonado's car, given to him by Pedro Maldonado, remained at the restaurant.
"We thought something was very wrong," Juana Maldonado said.
Tribune reporter Andrew Martin contributed to this article.