Crime & Courts

Sisters shot in Wichita murder-suicide described by neighbor as 'very happy kids all the time'

By Thursday afternoon, the crime-scene tape and the police cars were gone from the house off South Maize Road.

It looked like just another home in a newer subdivision, with a jovial frog figurine on the front porch.

But black scuff marks were visible across the front door — the same door an ex-boyfriend kicked in before going on a shooting rampage inside, Wichita police say.

The apparent murder-suicide left a 6-year-old girl and her mother's ex-boyfriend dead and three people seriously wounded, a police official said.

The girl's 9-year-old sister remained in "very serious condition" Thursday afternoon, police Lt. Ken Landwehr said.

Her 30-year-old mother and 56-year-old grandmother were in serious condition Thursday morning at a local hospital, Landwehr said, but showed signs of improvement by Thursday afternoon.

"The one we're worried about right now is the 9-year-old," said Landwehr, head of the Police Department's homicide unit. "She has wounds all over her body."

A neighbor described the two girls as "very happy kids all the time."

"I never saw them upset," she said. The neighbor, who asked not to be identified, described the family as "very sweet people" who have supported her children by buying Boy Scout and Girl Scout items.

Through tears, she said, "It makes my heart sick," what happened to the family.

Police did not release the names of the victims or the ex-boyfriend on Thursday. The girls' school sent a letter home to parents identifying the girls as Dayanara Rivera and Reimy Rivera. Dayanara is the older sister.

The girls attend school at Kensler Elementary in west Wichita, said Susan Arensman, a spokeswoman for Wichita public schools.

The younger girl was in first grade and the older sister is in the fourth grade. Both have attended Kensler, near 13th and Ridge Road, since they were in kindergarten, officials said.

Girls' classmates

Karen Wallace, co-leader of the district's crisis team, said more than a dozen counselors and social workers arrived at the school before classes began Thursday at the request of Kensler's principal.

They visited classrooms, sat on the floor with students and explained that one of their classmates had died and one was injured, Wallace said.

"This is a really close-knit community," she said. "There are teachers and students who know these girls and are very affected by what happened. They need to process that."

Officials said the girls, who speak primarily Spanish in the home, attend Kensler for its bilingual education program.

Counselors helped classmates share memories of the girls and make cards for the family with pink construction paper and crayons.

"Some said, 'She was nice. She was a good reader. She was a good writer, a good dancer,' " Wallace said. "One boy said, "'I didn't really know her, but she was always nice to me at lunch.'

"Whatever they want to share, we encourage them to do that."

Wallace said counselors would return to the school today and next week, possibly with therapy dogs trained to help children deal with confusion and grief.

Teajai Stradley, whose daughter attends Kensler, said she "got a sinking feeling" when she learned that the 9-year-old victim is in her daughter's fourth-grade class.

"They're just sad — sad about their friend and sad for the little one who passed away because that's just too young," Stradley said.

Account of shooting

At a briefing for reporters at City Hall, Landwehr said that the ex-boyfriend and the girls' mother had argued in the past and had known each other for about two months.

Before the couple's break-up, they and the two girls had recently gone to Disneyland in California, Landwehr said.

The ex-boyfriend, who is from Mexico, doesn't appear to have a criminal record.

Based on a preliminary investigation, it appears that the ex-boyfriend called with a threat to kill the family around 11 p.m. Wednesday, more than four hours before the shooting. But there is no indication that the threat was reported to police, Landwehr said.

The shooting was reported at 3:21 a.m. at 2314 S. Stoney Point, south of Kellogg and west of Maize Road.

Landwehr gave this account:

Around 3:20 a.m., the 36-year-old ex-boyfriend kicked in the front door and began firing with a large-caliber, semi-automatic handgun.

All of the victims had multiple gunshot wounds except the mother. The gunman also had a single wound to the head, apparently self-inflicted. The gunman and the 6-year-old girl were pronounced dead at the scene.

The girls were shot in their beds, apparently while asleep. The two women were shot in a front room.

The ex-boyfriend then killed himself, Landwehr said.

"There's gunshots in several rooms of the main floor," he said.

Many questions remain unanswered, however.

"We've had a language barrier," Landwehr said. "Plus, these people are in very serious condition, so we're just getting pieces of information."

The children's 38-year-old uncle, who was in the basement at the time, was not injured. It's likely the ex-boyfriend did not even know the uncle was in the house, Landwehr said.

"It was all over by the time he made it upstairs" to see what was going on, Landwehr said of the uncle.

Both the mother and uncle called 911 to report the shooting, he said.

The father of the girls was killed at the age of 34 when a train hit the dump truck he was driving at K-15 and 31st Street South on Sept. 13, 2005.

The three wounded victims were taken to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis for treatment.

Charles Scarbrough, a neighbor of the victims, said the family — two girls and two adult women — moved into the house about three years ago.

Each morning, he said, he would see the two girls out in front of the house, waiting for the school bus.

"They were always well-dressed," Scarbrough said of the girls. "They were always respectful.

"This is just something we would have never expected in this neighborhood."

There is no record of previous police calls at the address, police said.

But officers had talked to the ex-boyfriend late Wednesday night, Landwehr said. He called 911 to say he thought two men were following him, and one of them had a gun.

Officers found him on North Broadway and talked to him.

"Officers could not find anything to substantiate" his claims, Landwehr said.

The call to 911 happened at about the same time the ex-boyfriend called his former girlfriend and threatened to come over and kill her and her children, he said.

While there does not appear to be any connection between the "suspicious character" report and his threat to kill the family, Landwehr said, the two calls might explain "his mental state at the time."

A neighbor, Zach Jones, said that this spring he would often see a beige Cadillac Escalade parked at the home.

But Jones hadn't seen the Escalade there for weeks — until Thursday morning, where it remained after the shooting, blocking the driveway at the victims' home.

The Escalade belonged to the ex-boyfriend, Landwehr said.

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