Gabriela Gonzalez loved going to church on Sundays and her job as a dentist’s assistant, but her greatest joy was her little girls, Gaby, 3, and Asbel, 13 months, family members said.
Still, things didn’t seem right between Gonzalez, 24, and her boyfriend, Fredy Melara, soon after the family moved into their new house in South Los Angeles last December, they said.
On Thursday, Gonzalez’s family was in shock over the news that Melara apparently shot and killed her and the couple’s two children the night before in what police were investigating as a murder-suicide.
“There are no words I can say,” Lorenzo Gonzalez, 50, said in Spanish as he sat on the porch of his daughter’s house on East 82nd Street. He and other relatives were packing her belongings, including photo albums, as well as his granddaughters’ toys and clothes.
“Everyone knows that it’s not normal for parents to bury their children,” Gonzalez said. “Losing a child is a pain you can’t explain.”
Gabriela Gonzalez had been dating Melara, a 28-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, for four years, said her brother, Abraham Gonzalez.
“We noticed he had been more controlling of her since they moved” into the new house, Abraham said. “But none of us thought he, a security guard, would be capable of something this horrible.”
The incident began about 9 p.m. Wednesday when Gabriela’s 15-year-old sister, Noemi Gonzalez, went to the home to baby-sit, said Sgt. Lee Sands, a police spokesman.
After Melara refused to let her in, she heard shouts from inside and her brother-in-law and sister arguing.
A short time later, she heard gunshots and ran to a neighbor’s house to call police, Sands said.
Police arrived about 9:45 p.m. but remained outside, believing Melara may have had hostages. After more gunshots about midnight, the SWAT team moved into the house, where they found the four bodies, all with gunshot wounds to the head, Sands said. Sands said investigators knew of no prior criminal record for Melara.
Rafael Calvo, a neighbor who walks his son home from a nearby elementary school on most afternoons, remembered Melara’s welcoming wave whenever they would spot each other.
“It’s hard to read people sometimes,” said Calvo, 38. “He had just moved in, so maybe he was facing a lot of stress with a new house, new family, but it’s no excuse to kill the kids or his girlfriend.”
Aracei Maravilla, 20, who lives a few houses away, was sitting on her porch with her three children, watching police, media vehicles and spectators stream through her block Thursday.
“I can’t believe it. It’s normally a quiet neighborhood here,” she said, cradling her baby. “It’s normally peaceful.”
Gonzalez’s relatives entered the house about 10 a.m. after police cleared the scene. They quickly boarded up the large arched living room window broken during the standoff Wednesday night.
Neighbors placed a dozen religious candles and a teddy bear in the house’s driveway and consoled family members.
Abraham Gonzalez said services for his sister and two nieces would probably be held Monday or Tuesday. He said Melara’s family had been notified.
Gabriela was one of eight children, with three sisters and four brothers. Abraham, 19, said his sister was a responsible person who tried to be self-sufficient and was overprotective of her children and siblings.
“She always tried to take care of me,” Abraham said, sobbing, exhausted from being up almost 24 hours. “I just wish I could have done the same for her last night.”