- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

FREDERICK, Md. — The crime scene was horrific: four slain children tucked in their beds and their father’s body hanging from a banister. The mother was missing.

Six months later, Deysi Benitez’s whereabouts remain a mystery, and the trail stretching from this D.C. exurb to the parents’ hometown of Sensuntepeque, El Salvador, has grown cold.

The family’s three-bedroom townhouse in a crowded Frederick neighborhood is being repossessed. No one has claimed their three cars, slender bank accounts and modest home furnishings. A child’s bicycle, a blue-and-white football and a smiling toy dog lay among the belongings visible through one of the home’s windows.

Yet Frederick police think Mrs. Benitez, 25, is probably alive, said Detective Sgt. Bruce C. DeGrange. “We, at this point, have nothing to indicate that she’s not,” he said.

Their theory is largely based on a rumor — a third- or fourth-hand report that Mrs. Benitez left town with a friend at some point during the week before the bodies were found on March 26, and that afterward she received religious counseling. The supposed source of the information, a distant family member, denied to authorities having said it, police said.

Unconfirmed reported sightings in El Salvador and neighboring Honduras led investigators to think Mrs. Benitez may have returned to Central America, but local authorities haven’t found her — and aren’t looking.

“It didn’t happen here. There is no complaint filed, nor any evidence that this person is here,” Salvadoran National Police spokesman Carlos Rugamas said.

Honduran police spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia said authorities there have no evidence Mrs. Benitez ever entered the country.

A phone number for some of Mrs. Benitez’s family members in El Salvador no longer works. And her family — including a sister in Maryland — haven’t pressed police to find her, Sgt. DeGrange said.

Public interest in the case was intense for weeks after the tragedy. Nearly 1,000 people attended the April 12 funerals of Mrs. Benitez’s husband, Pedro Rodriguez, 28, and children Elsa, 9; Vanessa, 4; Angel, 3; and Carena, 1, which were held in Sensuntepeque. Mourners’ opinions were divided on whether Mrs. Benitez was dead or alive, and whether Mr. Rodriguez, as police claim, smothered the girls and killed the boy with a blow to the head, and then hanged himself in the stairwell.

Eleven days before the bodies were found, Mr. Rodriguez had learned he would lose his job at a door-manufacturing plant, increasing the financial stress on a family that had been taking in boarders to help make its $1,034 monthly mortgage payments.

Mrs. Benitez’s sister, Angela, in El Salvador has said Mrs. Benitez told her Mr. Rodriguez beat her in December. Mr. Rodriguez’s family members have said Mrs. Benitez, a restaurant kitchen worker, was unfaithful.

Sgt. DeGrange wouldn’t disclose Mr. Rodriguez’s suspected motive for killing his children and himself, but said it was more than just despair over his employment situation.

Associated Press writers Diego Mendez in San Salvador, El Salvador, and Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.

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