Before apparent murder-suicide, a troublesome pattern was emerging
In the months leading up to a New Year’s Day slaying in Lexington County that claimed four lives, there were warning signs emerging, records indicate.
On the evening of January 1, a Honduran foreign-national named Jorge Luis Chavez showed up at the house of Marissa Hope Reynoso, his estranged girlfriend and the mother of his two children.
Chavez, whose last known residence was Durham, N.C., shot Reynoso multiple times in the chest, killing her, said Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher. Chavez also turned a stolen 9 mm handgun on his children, four-year-old Elijah Chavez and one-year-old Ezra Chavez.
Elijah, Fisher said, died from a single gunshot to his back. Ezra died from a bullet to his chest.
The elder Chavez, Fisher said, then killed himself with a gunshot to the head at his estranged family’s home at 1105 Old Barnwell Road in the Three Fountains community near West Columbia.
A third child of Reynoso’s was not home at the time of the killings, authorities said.
According to incident reports released by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, deputies had twice responded to the home in reference to calls from Reynoso about Chavez in recent months.
On November 14, 2016, deputies showed up at Reynoso’s rented home and were told Chavez had shown up threatening suicide. He reportedly told her, “I can’t do this anymore, I’ll see you in heaven,” the incident report stated. He also allegedly showed Reynoso a rope he had on the front seat of his vehicle before he fled the area.
Deputies searched the area, but could not find Chavez. The attempted to “ping” his phone, which was turned off. A call from Reynoso to Chavez was not answered and went to straight to voicemail, the report stated.
The sheriff’s department sent out a BOLO (“be on the lookout”) and entered Chavez into a national database as a missing person, but never located him.
And then, on December 12, deputies were called back to the Reynoso household, this time for “family offenses – non-violent,” according to the incident report.
According to the report’s narrative, Reynoso said she and Chavez had broken up two months earlier after living together. She confirmed that the couple had two children together and had “recently started hanging out to allow the children to see their father.”
But, on the night of the incident, Reynoso stated Chavez had shown up unannounced “and knocked on her bedroom window and asked her to come outside to speak about their relationship,” the incident report read. Chavez, she stated, wouldn’t leave until she called 9-1-1.
The incident report concluded by stating Reynoso “was given a case card, a pink form, and advised on how to obtain this report. End of Report.”
Paula Rockwell, a retired social-services worker and advocate for abused women now living in Lexington County, said Wednesday the warning signs for potential violence of some sort were evident from the incident reports.
“The longing for her, the longing for his family, and just having some sort of connection. It’s just there,” she said. “Most people will eventually deal with their failure to establish that connection; but a very few will simply snap.
“Without all the details, I can’t place blame anywhere, though, than on the killer,” she cautioned to add. “He made the choice to act as he did. However, he obviously needed help, but likely just didn’t know how to get it or even realized he needed it before it was too late for anyone to intervene.
“I have no way of knowing how his wife acted, though nothing would warrant her murder or killing her children in a million years,” she added. “We can’t expect law enforcement to be omniscient in all these cases, either. They appear to have done their job, based on these reports. I feel for them, too.”
Both the sheriff’s department and coroner’s office continue to investigate the case.
“I would like to know more about what was in Mr. Chavez’s mind, so that maybe we could do a better job as a society to help prevent these tragedies,” Rockwell continued. “Otherwise, I just think this underscores just how dangerous the world is for women, especially in South Carolina.”
According to the latest report from the Violence Policy Center, released in September 2016, the state was ranked fifth for its per-capita rate of women murdered by men. Using 2014 statistics, South Carolina tallied 43 murders of women by men, or 1.73 homicides per 100,000 population. Of those murders, 63 percent were gun deaths.
The ranking was an improvement over the previous year’s study, however, in which South Carolina was ranked the nation’s deadliest state for women.