BAY CITY, Texas – All four children who, along with their mother, were shot by their father at a Bay City home Wednesday afternoon have died, police said Thursday.
Two of the boys, ages 3 and 5, died Thursday morning. The other two children, ages 2 and 4, were on life support, but died later in the day. The mother, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds, was in critical condition in a Houston hospital.
Investigators say the victims’ father, 24-year-old Jose Avila, shot the kids in the head before turning the gun on himself at their mobile home in the 2700 block of 10th Street around 3:15 p.m Wednesday.
Officers said Avila was dead at the scene. The four kids and the mother were rushed to Matagorda Regional Hospital, where the mother underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon.
The four children were airlifted from Matagorda Regional to Houston hospitals late Wednesday, where they died. Police said the mother, identified by friends as Laura Gonzales, was airlifted to an Memorial Hermann in Houston on Thursday and was in critical condition.
Lt. Andrew Lewis of the Bay City Police Department said investigators were able to briefly speak with the mother on Wednesday, and she identified the shooter as her husband.
Lewis did not release the names of the children.
Investigators said it was not the first domestic disturbance at the home. On November 22, 2011, police said Gonzales filed an assault report and was taken by officers to a crisis center.
But later, she refused to press charges.
Police said the shooting happened after a fight between Avila and Gonzales. It started in the home and moved out to the yard.
"A confrontation took place between the wife and the husband inside the mobile home – that’s where the shooting started. She was able to get out of the residence. He went outside and told her he was going to get the kids, and that’s when he went outside and started shooting the kids," Lewis said.
One one of Gonzales' coworkers, Rubi Gomez, said she saw Gonzales and her kids just 15 minutes before the shooting. She had picked them up for a local Head Start program and headed home, Gomez said.
The image of the kids leaving for the final time still haunts her, Gomez said.
Another neighbor, Juan Elizondo, said his daughter witnessed the shootings as she walked home from school.
"When he shot his wife, she came out running across the street. By that time, my daughter and my niece were walking to come home, and Laura stopped them and asked for a phone. And when they were trying to hand the phone over to Laura, he was swinging a gun at them," Elizondo said. "His (youngest) kid was in the truck, and then he shot his other three kids, and then he shot himself in the head."
Elizondo said Avila had recently lost his job cleaning floors at a grocery store.
"He worked nights and all of a sudden he was having trouble with his family," said Elizondo. "I knew the guy, but I didn’t know he would do something like this."
After the shootings, neighbors and friends started dropping off candles, teddy bears and balloons in a makeshift memorial in front of the family’s home.
The trailer was still wrapped in crime-scene tape Thursday.
"A lot of people saw the two bodies on the ground, both of the little boys, one near his dad, and the little girl was apparently in the vehicle," said Lisa Perez, a neighbor.
Lt. Lewis also said that the mother of the shooting victim who lives in Utah was notified and is currently making arrangements to fly to Houston.
Meanwhile, a fund has been established for the family. The fund has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank in Bay City under the name of Bay City Tragedy Benefit. Anyone wishing to contribute to the fund may do so by making contributions to account # 94119446972.
"It touches your family. I got little nieces this age and it just hurts your heart, especially around Christmastime. It’s very sad," said neighbor Irene Mendoza.
Neighbors said Avila and his wife had split up sometime in the past week.
It was not clear why the family reunited Wednesday, but Elizondo said that after the November 22 assault report, Gonzales told him she and Avila were afraid to get the police involved because of their immigration status.
"She was scared she didn’t have papers, that he didn’t have papers. They were both scared that they were going to get deported," Elizondo said.
Multiple close friends of the family told KHOU 11 News that Gonzales did not press assault charges partly because of that reason and also because she was worried about what the separation would do to her kids.
Police did not confirm whether the family was in the country illegally, but investigators on Thursday said they were looking into it.
Eugene Davis, Executive Director of the Matagorda County Women’s Center, released a statement Thursday saying that while she could not comment about the specifics of the Bay City case, she wanted the public to know that there are resources out there for women in abusive relationships.
"As a community we must understand that an offender is most likely to kill a victim when the victim attempts to leave. The community as a whole needs to ensure a safety net when families members need to leave an abusive home," Davis wrote.
Victims of family violence can call Matagorda County Women’s Crisis Center 800-451-9235 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.