On the night of July 13, 2014, Julian Ovalle brutally murdered his partner, Rossana Sabater, in their house in eastern Hialeah, less than half a mile from the city’s police headquarters.
He tied her hands first, then stabbed her 54 times. He slashed her face, neck, back, arms, legs and abdomen. Then he sprayed her with alcohol and set her on fire.
Ovalle, 40, then killed himself with the same kitchen knife.
“The man killed the woman … in the most cruel way,” said a neighbor who asked to remain anonymous. “That was the home of the grandparents, Cubans who came decades ago and who lost the property recently. In the neighborhood, the grandchildren were known as really problematic people.”
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The murder of Sabater, who was 31, reflects the level of cruelty in some of the 899 cases of domestic violence reported in Hialeah last year, which include everything from harassment to murder. The number represents an increase of nearly 11 percent from the 810 cases in 2013, according to official figures.
Lourdes Mendoza, coordinator of the advocate’s office for victims of domestic violence at the Hialeah Police Department, said the growing problem in that city includes many crimes of passion marked by irrational violence.
Many victims, out of fear because of their financial situation, don’t report these attacks.
Lourdes Mendoza, Hialeah Police Department
Mendoza said that an analysis of a number of cases shows several issues that characterize cases of violence, from economic dependency to problems over migration status.
“Many victims, out of fear because of their financial situation, don’t report these attacks,” said Mendoza, who has eight years of experience assisting victims in Hialeah. “Another problem is the people who threaten to call immigration on their [undocumented] partners. They tell them, ‘If you denounce me, you’re the one who is going to be deported.’ ”
The violence, Mendoza said, has reached the point where the aggressors sometimes attack their victims in front of their children.
A month ago, Roberto Calixto Gómez, 50, shot to death Marcia Vázquez, 48, in eastern Hialeah. They had separated a few weeks earlier, after a relationship of more than a decade.
On the night of Aug. 15, Gómez went to to the apartment that Vázquez was planning to leave. He walked into the bedroom, pulled out a semiautomatic pistol and shot her at point-blank range, according to the police report.
Hearing the gunshots, Vázquez’ youngest daughter walked into the bedroom, saw her mother on the floor and dialed 911. The girl asked Gómez, her stepfather, to let her kiss her mother, Mendoza said. Gómez then killed himself with the same pistol.
Four minutes later, Vázquez’ oldest daughter, Yamisley Hernández, arrived at the apartment. She was going to help her mother and little sister move to another place. But it was too late.
“He killed her in front of the little girl. That is brutal,” said Mendoza. “The little girl told her stepfather, ‘Let me say good by to Mami before she dies.’ That’s really traumatic for a little kid … that’s never going to be erased from her memory.”
In 2010, Hialeah suffered a well-publicized streak of crimes of passion, marked by the extreme anger of attackers who would not accept a separation from their partners, murdered them and then committed suicide.
One of these cases took place in the popular Yoyito restaurant, on East 49th Street. Gerardo Regalado, 38 and stepbrother of Cuban baseball star Orlando “Duque” Hernández, could not cope with the end of his relationship with Liazán Molina, 24.
11 percent increase in domestic violence incidents in Hialeah in the past year, compared to 2013
On the night of June 6, 2010, Regalado, armed with a .45 caliber pistol, went to the restaurant where Molina had started to work and shot her to death, along with three other restaurant employees. Another three were wounded. Regalado fled the restaurant in Molina’s car and a few minutes later, just three blocks from the restaurant, killed himself with a shot to the head.
Hialeah, the second most populous municipality in Miami-Dade County, reported four homicides among its 825 cases of domestic violence in 2010. After a municipal prevention campaign, the number of cases reported fell to 759 in 2011. But they rose again to 786 in 2012, 810 in 2013 and 899 in 2014.
Based on those numbers, the city has agreed to launch an education campaign next month, which is domestic violence awareness month.
The president of the City Council, Isis García Martínez, said the campaign will focus on launching a crusade in middle school and high school to educate new generations.
“One of the best ways of educating our children is to make them understand that if they see in their homes anyone raising a hand against women, that is unacceptable,” Martínez said. “I am convinced that by educating our new generations, we will be able to reduce the number of domestic violence cases in our community.”
The campaign also will raise funds from private sources to assist the victims — part of the effort to keep victims from returning to their own homes and perhaps facing more abuse, Martínez said. That’s what happened to Rachel Sánchez, a 25-year-old Cuban and mother of two girls.
In April of 2014, Sánchez called police for the first time to accuse Raúl Marrero, 25 and the father of her youngest daughter, of hitting her. He was arrested but after posting bond and walking out of jail he persuaded Sánchez to resume their relationship. Her fear of not having a home for her daughters led her to agree.
Nine months later she was physically abused again in the Hialeah townhouse they shared. Initially, Sánchez didn’t say anything, but a few days later she told her father, who lives in Orlando. He immediately called the Hialeah police, and Marrero was arrested again.
One of the best ways of educating our children is to make them understand that if they see in their homes anyone raising a hand against women, that is unacceptable.
Hialeah Council member Isis García Martínez
A couple of days later, after Marrero again posted bond and went free, he tried to break into the house, police said. Sánchez hid in a closet with her daughters and called 911. Marrero fled, but three days later he was arrested again on charges of violating a restraining order. He is currently in jail.
Mendoza and Emerly Guzmán, a social worker at the advocates’ office in the Hialeah Police Department, counseled Sánchez on starting a new life.
They helped the young mother find the money to move to a new apartment. They put her in touch with Survivor’s Pathway, a nonprofit based in Coral Gables where she received 17 psychological counseling sessions along with her oldest daughter, who witnessed Marrero’s abuses.
“Thanks to that help I am a better person now,” Sánchez said. “I am giving my daughters a life of positive energy … full of happiness, smiles, good things, because if violence enters their lives when they grow up, they will reject it.”
Follow Enrique Flor and Brenda Medina on Twitter: @kikeflor and @BrendaMedina
A four-part series:
Part Three: Some domestic workers face double abuse