5 found dead in Frederick home

Bodies of father, 4 children discovered

mother missing

March 27, 2007|By Nicole Fuller and John-John Williams IV | Nicole Fuller and John-John Williams IV,sun reporters

FREDERICK -- A 28-year-old man - who apparently committed suicide - and his four young children were found dead yesterday inside their townhouse, and police said they are looking for the youngsters' mother, who has not been seen by relatives for several days.

Frederick police officers, who had to crawl through a window to enter the locked house, found the bodies shortly after 3 p.m. The father, whom they identified as Pedro Rodriguez, was hanging in the foyer, a yellow nylon rope wrapped around his neck and tied to a second-floor banister, said Lt. Thomas Chase, commander of the criminal investigations division.

The children were in beds, blankets covering them from head to toe, Chase said. Two of the children were found in one room, and the others in different rooms of the three-bedroom home. Police would not say if the children, whose names were not released, showed any sign of trauma or how they died.

Police said they did not find a suicide note in the house, which is in the 1200 block of Danielle Drive, but have concluded that the father hanged himself.

The children - three girls ages 9, 4 and 1, and a 3-year-old boy - and the father appeared to have been dead for several days. There were no signs of forced entry.

Last night, police were looking for their mother, Deysi M. Benitez, 25, who also lived at the home and worked at a restaurant in town. She has not been to work in more than a week, police said. Police have interviewed the mother's sister, who said she had not heard from her in a few days.

Police said they do not consider Benitez a suspect.

"The crime scene unit was unable to determine cause of death [of the children] and the medical examiner will have to determine cause of death," said Bill Douwes, a Frederick police spokesman. "This is a death investigation and whether it's a crime or not, deaths are investigated by our criminal investigation division. There is nothing pointing any way now. ... I want to emphasize that, we don't go on presumption."

The state medical examiner in Baltimore is scheduled to perform autopsies on the five bodies today.

The family was originally from El Salvador, police said. According to public records, Rodriguez and Benitez purchased the condominium in August 2005 for $195,900. Police did not know when the family emigrated.

Police were called after a community liaison at nearby Hillcrest Elementary School visited the home to see why the 9-year-old, a third-grader, and the 4-year-old, who attended pre-kindergarten, had been absent for several days. No one answered the door and she alerted police.

"[The community liaison] noticed that cars were parked in front of the home and she just felt that something was amiss," said Marita Loose, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County public schools, who added that the third-grader had attended the school since pre-kindergarten. "They were concerned because it was unusual for these two students to not be in school."

Police declined to describe the scene inside the house or say if any weapons were found, but an officer who responded to the home summoned more officers.

A school crisis team, composed of psychologists and guidance counselors, will help students and staff with their grief today, she said.

"Of course they're young, and they will require some very special handling," Loose said. "It's very sad."

Dino E. Flores Jr., a Frederick criminal defense attorney who said he was called by detectives seeking information about the missing woman, said he represented Benitez in a minor theft case last spring, after she was accused of stealing from an area department store. Court records indicate the woman needed a Spanish interpreter to help in her case.

A judge gave her 24 hours of community service and placed her case on the inactive docket, Flores said.

Flores said Benitez worked last year at a Roy Rogers restaurant in Frederick, but he didn't know where she might have worked more recently.

"She was very pleasant to me," Flores said. "The case worked out well for her. She seemed to be a very pleasant lady."

Bryan Bradford, who said he was Benitez's manager at the Roy Rogers on West Patrick Street, where she worked nights for about six months last year as a cashier, said she was generally a good employee, but ended up leaving after "butting heads" with another employee.

"We were having some issues with her and another associate," Bradford said.

As news of the tragedy traveled last night, dozens of cars and television trucks lined the winding street off a major intersection filled with chain restaurants and stores. Hundreds of onlookers flooded the area surrounding the house.

Police set up a white tent in the front yard and held up blue tarps as they removed the bodies about 6:30 p.m. The bodies were loaded into a black coroner's van and driven away.

Neighbors said Rodriguez worked at a Toys `R' Us warehouse and Benitez, worked at Outback Steakhouse. Police would not confirm those details and managers at both places declined to comment.

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