A New Jersey mother and her two young children were stabbed to death, allegedly at the hands of the woman’s estranged husband, who was found dead in the woods nearby hanging from a tree.
The Salem County Prosecutor’s Office identified the victims as Ruth Reyes Severino, 30, Eurianny Severino, 5, and Eury Severino, 2.
Just weeks before the family was discovered dead in their Penns Grove Gardens apartment on Wednesday, authorities said Reyes had gotten a restraining order against her husband, Eugenio Severino.
Penns Grove police confirmed to KYW-TV that Reyes had taken out a temporary restraining order against Severino on Jan. 12 and a final restraining order was issued on Jan. 16.
According to statements from the prosecutor’s office, the bodies were discovered after a passerby saw Severino’s body in the woods in Carneys Point and called 911. His death has been ruled a suicide by hanging, prosecutors said.
When police at the scene examined his identification, they noticed his address and requested a welfare check on the family, at which point they discovered their bodies. The prosecutor’s office identified the cause of death for the three family members as “homicides by multiple stab wounds.”
Authorities believe Severino stabbed his family on Tuesday and then drove to the woods where he killed himself.
“I don’t understand it. I thought he never would have hurt her,” Severino’s cousin Johnny Solano told NJ.com. “Because he loved this little boy and this little girl. But in the moment, I guess the devil got him.”
Solano told the news outlet the couple had met in the Dominican Republic, where Reyes lived at the time and got married. They later moved to the United States after she was able to legally immigrate here, he said.
Solano grew close with his cousin’s wife after he offered her a job waiting tables at his Carneys Point restaurant and was always happy when she brought her children—who called him “Uncle J”—into work with her.
“She was the most loving mother I’ve ever seen,” he said.
But Solano said he learned the couple was having trouble after Reyes told him Severino had threatened to kill her during an argument and that she’d thrown him out and gotten a restraining order.
“She told me that she felt every single word that [Severino] told her was going to happen to her, and that if she’d gone back to that house that day, he would have killed her – that’s what she told me,” he told The Delaware News Journal.
However, Severino had allegedly told his cousin he didn’t mean the threat and had only been angry.
“He said he smiled and told her, ‘I’m not going to hurt you. You know I’d never hurt you’,” he said.
Solano became concerned when Reyes didn’t show up for work on Wednesday and rushed to the family’s apartment — where he discovered the police already at the scene.
“They told me, ‘Everybody’s gone’,” he said.
A makeshift memorial with colourful balloons, teddy bears and flowers now stands outside the family’s door.
Penns Grove Mayor LaDaena Thomas said police plan to reach out to area residents after the tragedy.
“My heart is torn for the families of those we lost yesterday,” she said according to KYW-TV.