The children and husband of Deysi Benitez are dead, and police hope the missing woman is still alive

Police hunt missing mother

March 28, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun Reporter

FREDERICK --Police searching for the mother of four children found dead in their townhouse classified her yesterday as a missing person and expressed concern for her safety.

The most recent sighting of Deysi M. Benitez, 25, was by a neighbor who saw her a week and a half ago, said Lt. Thomas Chase, a commander of the criminal investigations division of the Frederick Police Department.

"She just disappeared," Chase said. "Everyone we've talked to puts their last contact with her a week and a half ago. I hope she's still alive."

Police, alerted by school officials who reported the children had not shown up for school for several days, found a grisly scene Monday inside the three-bedroom beige townhouse. The children's father, Pedro Rodriguez, 28, had apparently committed suicide, and his body was hanging in the foyer, a yellow nylon rope around his neck and tied to a second-floor banister.

The four children were found dead in beds with blankets covering them from head to toe. Police identified them yesterday as the couple's three girls, Elsa, 9, Vanessa, 4, and Carena, 1, and boy, Angel, 3.

There were no outward signs of trauma on the children, who appeared to have been dead for several days, police said. Autopsies conducted yesterday at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore revealed no conclusive cause of death for any of the five. A determination might not be made until toxicology tests are completed, something that could take a week, police said.

Among the possible causes of death under investigation are poisoning or suffocation, Chase said.

Compounding the mystery of Benitez's whereabouts is the fact that all of the family's cars were discovered parked outside the townhouse.

"We are doing everything we can to try to locate her and, of course, first and foremost, to verify that she's OK," Chase said.

Investigators contacted federal immigration authorities yesterday seeking assistance in locating her, said James Dinkins, the acting special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The two adults and oldest child were classified as legal residents of the United States, having come here from El Salvador under "temporary protective status" granted to people from nations undergoing conflict and instability, Dinkins said.

The three other children are believed to have been born in this country and are automatically American citizens. Dinkins was unable to say yesterday when the family entered the country.

The Frederick News-Post reported yesterday that records showed the couple had been married in the county in 2002.

A portrait emerged yesterday of an immigrant family that was generally well-regarded by neighbors and acquaintances, but struggled to adapt to a new life in the United States.

Frederick police records show that officers were called to the house eight times between March 5, 2006, and Monday. The calls were for a variety of reasons, including noise and parking issues, disorderly conduct and a verbal dispute, most of which were resolved without a police report or arrest.

Benitez was sentenced to community service last year for stealing from a local department store, said Dino E. Flores Jr., her attorney in that case.

Benitez went through a number of jobs, including work at McDonald's and then a Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant near her home.

More recently, she was employed at an Outback Steakhouse near her home, according to neighbors. The restaurant manager declined to comment.

Rodriguez had worked at a Masonite International Corp. residential door manufacturing plant in Frederick, company spokesman Larry Repar said.

Some neighbors said that Rodriguez worked at a warehouse for Toys `R' Us. But Bob Friedland, a spokesman for the Wayne, N.J.-based company, said it has no record of Rodriguez being employed by the company.

Marita Loose, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County public schools, said that the family had received services from a number of assistance agencies.

"They were getting lots of support," Loose said.

One teacher provided Vanessa with a winter coat that her daughter had outgrown.

Elsa, the eldest daughter, regularly attended school. Vanessa, who was in pre-kindergarten, would come to school with less regularity, Loose said.

Elsa had attended Hillcrest since pre-kindergarten classes, but transferred to Parkway Elementary for kindergarten and first grade. She returned to Hillcrest last year for second grade.

"This is a school with tremendous mobility," Loose said. "Children come one week and enroll in another the next."

The school system declined to make the children's teachers available for comment, but Loose quoted one as describing Elsa, the third-grader, as "an angel; she was a very sweet, lovable child." She said one teacher described Vanessa as "a sweet, quiet child with a smile that would melt your heart."

Grief counselors and psychologists were sent to Hillcrest yesterday.

Misty Gilmore, a 27-year-old nurse from Frederick, had never met the family but was drawn to their townhouse yesterday to construct a small memorial of stuffed animals and a Salvadoran flag under a tree.

"I'm here for the kids," Gilmore said. "God bless their souls."

The Associated Press and Sun reporters Matthew Dolan and Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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