- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

SAN SALVADOR — The missing mother of four children who were found dead in Frederick had been beaten by her husband and wanted to separate, her sister in El Salvador said.

Authorities are still looking for Deysi M. Benitez, 25, whose husband was found Monday hanging from their town house banister and whose children, ages 1 to 9, were found dead in their beds of unknown causes. Police said Mrs. Benitez may have left the country or could be dead.

In a telephone interview Wednesday with the Associated Press in El Salvador, Angela Benitez said her sister and Pedro Rodriguez, 28, were having problems in their marriage, and he beat her at least once, in December.

“I didn’t see it, but she called me and told me that he had left her face a complete mess, that it was a miracle he didn’t kill her,” Angela Benitez said.

She also said her sister asked for a separation, but Mr. Rodriguez would not allow it.

Angela Benitez said the last time she spoke with her sister, she was talking very calmly.

“She didn’t tell me anything … and he was there,” she said.

Deysi Benitez was last seen March 18 by a neighbor, going about her normal activities, Frederick Police Lt. Thomas Chase said yesterday. He said she didn’t show up for a scheduled shift March 21 at the Outback Steakhouse restaurant near her home. The couple lived a few blocks from a retail stretch of U.S. 40 called the Golden Mile.

Mr. Rodriguez’s employer, Masonite International Corp. of Tampa, Fla., told workers on March 15 that it would close its Frederick door-manufacturing plant in July, idling all 70 workers. Mr. Rodriguez stopped coming to work the next week, said co-worker Oscar Velasquez.

Mr. Rodriguez arrived in the United States from El Salvador in 1998 and Mrs. Benitez in 2001, Angela Benitez said. They were married in Frederick in 2002 and struggled with financial and legal problems. They held a series of menial jobs, lived in an apartment subsidized by a homeless advocacy group and took in at least one boarder to help pay their mortgage. Mrs. Benitez was charged twice with theft, and police were called to the town house eight times in the past year for mostly minor disturbances, including two domestic disputes.

Angela Benitez said the couple worked separate shifts — Mr. Rodriguez during the day and Mrs. Benitez at night.

El Salvador’s consul general for the Salvadoran Embassy in the District, Ana Margarita Chavez, taped a televised appeal Wednesday asking the missing woman to contact her. Mrs. Chavez said she told Mrs. Benitez in the appeal that “I will provide her with security and also that I understand her situation and that I was going to be waiting for her phone call.”

However, the consul general acknowledged the appeal, which was to be broadcast on a Spanish-language station in the D.C.-Baltimore area, may be in vain.

“There are so many scenarios,” Mrs. Chavez said. “One is that maybe she already left the country and she has already passed the border. The other one is that probably she is in the United States. And there is another one that maybe she is dead.”

Mrs. Chavez said she met Tuesday with Frederick police and was able to locate family members in north-central El Salvador. The consul general said Angela Benitez told her she spoke with her missing sister daily until March 16, when she no longer answered calls to her cell phone.

The consul general said she also had spoken with Mr. Rodriguez’s parents, whom she described as “in shock.”

Mr. Chavez plans to speak again with family members about funeral arrangements. She also said the bodies are expected to be sent to El Salvador for burial.

Lt. Chase said the unanswered calls supported the theory that Mrs. Benitez has come to harm.

Police were awaiting complete autopsy results they hope will explain the deaths of the children and their father. Officers found the children — girls Elsa, 9; Vanessa, 4; and Carena, 1, and 3-year-old boy Angel — in their beds with sheets and blankets pulled over their heads. The husband had apparently hanged himself, police said.

They said they had no suspects in the deaths.

Preliminary autopsy results ruled out shooting and stabbing as the cause of death for the children, Lt. Chase said. He said poisoning and suffocation are possibilities, and that police will learn more after the state medical examiner’s office completes toxicology studies that will likely take more than a week.

James A. Dinkins, special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Baltimore, said the family was in the United States legally. Mrs. Benitez, Mr. Rodriguez and their oldest child were in the United States under temporary protected status, which is similar to asylum and is extended to those from countries affected by war, disaster or other extraordinary circumstances. The three youngest children were U.S. citizens.

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