Family displaced by hurricane
By CAREN M. PENLAND and BILL TEETER
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITERS
GRAPEVINE -- They lost their home and jobs to Hurricane Katrina. Already in poor health, the family had come to North Texas, seeking to hold on.
But work was hard to find, and on Tuesday, an eviction notice came.
Two days later, police believe, the father, mother and 14-year-old son died in their Grapevine apartment, believed to be victims of a double-murder suicide.
"They had nowhere to go, and they didn't have any money," said neighbor Teri Curry, who had been helping the family financially.
The bodies of a 40-year-old man, a 37-year-old woman and the boy were found about 9 a.m. Friday morning in their three-bedroom apartment in the 3100 block of Mustang Drive, police said. Officers also found a 20-gauge shotgun believed to have been used in the killings.
"Our working theory is that the father killed his wife and son," Grapevine police Sgt. Todd Dearing said.
Their identities are not being released until relatives can be notified.
Apartment officials had asked police to check on the family when they couldn't get anyone to answer the door, officials said.
A maintenance worker tried to remove the front door lock, but the deadbolt was set. Using a ladder, he and officers climbed onto the second-floor balcony to break a windowpane to get in.
They found the mother in the living room and the son, a student at Cross Timbers Middle School, in a bedroom. In another bedroom was the father, the shotgun close at hand, police said.
The ladder remained propped against the building on Friday, as police officers and media swarmed the area.
The couple's 16-year-old daughter had been sent to North Carolina this week to live with her boyfriend's family, who are also Katrina evacuees. The girl learned of her family's deaths by reading an online news report. She immediately called Grapevine police and was helping them locate other relatives.
Authorities said the family listed La Place, La., as their hometown on a lease agreement. La Place is about 25 miles west of New Orleans.
A downstairs neighbor reported hearing shots Thursday morning, but waited several hours before calling apartment officials, police said.
Officers knocked on the victims' door shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday but no one answered.
"They [officers] didn't feel like they had any reason to force the door because the family typically didn't open the door because of the rent situation," Dearing said.
Curry said she believes that the stress of losing their home in Louisiana, coupled with health and money problems, led to the tragedy. The father was not bearing up under the situation and had previously attempted suicide by cutting his throat in front of family members after Katrina hit, Curry said the mother had told her.
Frank Martinez, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who works as a courtesy officer at the complex, said the family had not paid their $1,200-a-month rent for the past two months. "They had arguments once in a while, but that was it," Martinez said.
Munirah Kabani, whose apartment shares a wall with the deceased family, said she heard two muffled voices screaming last weekend in what sounded like a "terrible argument."
"My kids were worried and scared," she said. "I told them there was nothing we could do. I didn't think it would come to this. It's terrible."
The family's car, a burgundy Mitsubishi Galant, remained in front of the apartment building. Police believe that the car was borrowed from a relative.
The emotional stress of the hurricane's aftermath proved more powerful than anything Katrina could dish out, Curry said. The family was getting little, if any, help from agencies or religious groups, Curry said. She felt compelled to help after meeting them about six weeks ago, giving them any food and money she could spare, Curry said.
"They were about to be evicted, they were supposed to be out Tuesday, but they had nowhere to go," Curry said.
Before the hurricane struck, the father had worked as a construction contractor. But the mother suffered from health problems that kept her from working, and the 16-year-old daughter has an immune disorder, Curry said.
After arriving in North Texas, the father found work but was collapsing from the strain and became "incredibly depressed," Curry said. The mother was left carrying the family emotionally, and she was showing the stress, Curry said.
"He would leave all the decisions up to her, and she was cracking," Curry said.
Earlier in the week, Curry said, the mother told her that the eviction was looming.
"Teri, my kids are starving," she told Curry, a flight attendant who is on medical leave from American Airlines because of migraine headaches.
The last time Curry spoke to anybody from the family was Thursday morning. The wife and husband were about to take the son to stay with relatives in Houston. They were to return Thursday night and stay in Curry's apartment. Again, the family had no money, and she gave them $60 for gas, Curry said.
The parents never showed up Thursday night, and when she saw the police cars Friday morning, she thought it was part of the eviction. Later in the day, Curry found out the truth.
"I came home and found this out. It's killing me," she said.