Police: Girl, war vet dead in murder-suicide

March 15, 2012 - 9:55 PM

GILROY, Calif. (AP) — An Iraq War veteran who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder shot and killed his 11-year-old sister Thursday in California before taking his own life in a murder-suicide, police said.

Meanwhile, investigators said they were frantically searching for the mother of shooter Abel Gutierrez, 27, who they feared also may have been killed or seriously injured.

"It's horrible. We have no idea where she is," Gilroy police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao told The Associated Press. "We are desperately trying to find her."

Police were called to the Gutierrez apartment Wednesday night after a roommate came home, suspected something was wrong, and went back outside. Arriving officers found the bodies of Gutierrez and his little sister, Lucero, dead from gunshot wounds.

There was no sign of their mother, Martha Gutierrez, 52. However, police found clues inside the home that indicated she may be seriously hurt — or worse.

"We do believe based on the evidence at the scene that she is either critically wounded or deceased," Gallacinao said.

Police said they had contact with Abel Gutierrez as recently as late last month.

Family members told the San Jose Mercury News that Gutierrez often said that he wanted to kill himself "all the time" and would ask if that would hurt them.

A niece, Kristell Gutierrez, said she knew her uncle was "very mean" to his mother and blamed her for his father leaving the family.

Alissa Fernandez, a downstairs neighbor, told the newspaper that Gutierrez "was just weird, the way he would act."

About two weeks ago, Martha Gutierrez apparently went to the apartment manager, saying she was "scared of her son," Fernandez said.

Mario Reyes, a neighbor who lives beneath the Gutierrez family, told KNTV-TV that he thought he heard a scuffle — but no gunshots — around the time police say the shooting occurred.

Gallacinao said officers found at least two firearms used in the killings, but he would not say whether Gutierrez left a suicide note.

Abel Gutierrez served in the Army and had recently returned from Iraq. His family suspected he was suffering from PTSD, Gallacinao said.

Police had been called to his apartment on Feb. 29, but Gutierrez did not seem dangerous and did not meet the criteria to be placed on a psychiatric hold, Gallacinao said.

Instead, police began working with the family and Office of Veterans Affairs in Palo Alto to help him.

Gutierrez had been receiving care at a VA facility in Puget Sound, Wash., confirmed Kerrie Childress, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs Care System in Palo Alto. She said she could not provide further details.

Jeri Rowe, public affairs director at the Puget Sound facility, said she was unable to confirm or release any information concerning Gutierrez because of privacy regulations.