During a deadly three-day span last week in Edinburg, five people died in two violent incidents that authorities have indicated are acts of domestic violence.
The series of murders, which are not connected, began at a home in the 700 block of West Russell Road Sunday afternoon when a disturbance between Karla Marlen Deleon, 47, and her husband, Hector Deleon, 48, escalated. Authorities said that the woman shot her husband, killing him, shortly before they arrived.
She has been charged with murder and has since bailed out of Hidalgo County jail on a $100,000 bond.
Less than 48 hours later, on Tuesday morning, authorities responded to Apt. 5 at 301 W. Kuhn St. to what Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres called a “horrific” incident where police found a mother, her daughter and a home healthcare provider dead from possible gunshot wounds, as well as discovering an unharmed male toddler. Hours later, at a separate location, investigators discovered a fourth body.
At a news conference, Torres said the fourth dead individual was believed to be dating one of the women and authorities later confirmed they believed the suspect in the case, who would have been charged with capital murder of multiple persons, took his own life after murdering 19-year-old Rebecca Lee Cantu, 48-year-old Magdalena Cantu and 30-year-old Aaron Cortez, who are listed as victims in a police report.
The suspect’s name has not been released.
After updating media on the case Tuesday, Torres began speaking about domestic violence, indicating this crime may be such a case.
“We urge the public to please call 9-1-1 at any first signs of domestic violence or any type of violence so we can get them the proper help,” Torres said.
The killings happened between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time of year where families and friends gather to celebrate life and give thanks.
But when holidays arrive, so do stressors that can contribute to instances of domestic violence.
Dr. Cynthia Jones, director of the Office for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said those stressors include a sense of maintaining family unity during the holidays.
“Even though stressors could be higher and certainly are higher for us during the holidays, it’s still a choice these people made,” Jones, who is a survivor of domestic abuse, said. “It’s still a choice. In domestic violence incidents, they usually result from a cycle of violence that lasted a long time.”
The truth is that domestic violence is a year-round occurrence and remains a constant problem in society.
“Domestic violence is a huge deal,” Jones said. “Even though murder rates are declining, domestic violence rates (resulting in murder) seem to be on the rise for women.”
In fact, more than half of women who are murdered are killed during deadly domestic violence incidents. That rate is higher for Hispanic women, it’s more than 60%, Jones explained, a particularly important statistic here in the Rio Grande Valley.
“But there is evidence of that … if you’re a Hispanic female, you’re more likely to be murdered by intimate partner,” Jones said
Murder-suicides involving domestic violence, sadly, are not uncommon, either. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of female homicides between 2003 and 2014 were incidents of murder-suicide.
While the facts in the case of the woman in Edinburg accused of killing her husband aren’t clear, Jones did say domestic abuse that ends with the murder of a male is a rarer occurrence and the rates of this type of crime happening against men are actually dropping.
“Men are far less likely to be victims of abuse but they are far less likely to outcry and when they do,” Jones said.
One problem Jones sees in her work is that there are people out there who blame the victims of domestic violence.
“There are so many pressures that keep a person in such a relationship that these cases lead to a powder keg that blew up and led to people who were murdered,” Jones said.
For anyone who is in an abusive relationship, Jones recommends creating a safety plan, which “is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave. Safety planning involves how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more,” according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
To learn more about creating a safety plan, visit thehotline.org.
“Safety planning is really important,” Jones said.
And it’s important to note, that the most dangerous time for a victim is when they decide to leave their abuser, Jones said.
Victims should know that there are advocates and shelters in the Rio Grande Valley that can help them, as well as numerous hotlines.
Locally, victims of abuse can contact Mujeres Unidas at the organization’s 24-hour hotline at (800) 580-4879. Mujeres Unidas also has a 24-hour shelter.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-7233 and can also be found online at thehotline.org.
The website notes that if a victim of abuse believes their internet usage may be monitored, the victim should call the hotline.