Maria Hernandez’s nephew burst through the door of her Charlotte apartment Saturday morning, scared by what was happening in his family’s apartment next door.
“My father is going crazy,” Hernandez remembers him saying.
Moments later, the nightmare began.
Hernandez’s 7-year-old niece ran screaming through the door, saying her father had shot her mother, grandmother and sister. Her 11-year-old sister, Tiffany, who had tried to escape with her, was struck in the head by a bullet before she could escape the family’s living room, where the shootings took place.
“My dad! My dad is going to kill us!” Hernandez remembers the little girl saying.
“It was one of the most terrifying moments in our lives, because when we opened the door we didn’t know if he was there,” Hernandez said Tuesday in an interview steps away from the apartment where the killings took place. “We thought, ‘Is he coming for us?’ He wanted to kill his entire family. The only thing we could do was leave running for the car.”
Police said 37-year-old Antioco Andrade Chacon shot and killed his mother, Asuncion Chacon-Perez, and his wife, Marina Bravo Aguilar, inside an apartment in Charlotte on Kilborne Drive in Charlotte’s east side around 8:40 a.m. Saturday. He then shot and killed himself, police said.
Tiffany is in intensive care at Carolinas Medical Center, her aunt said. She’s unconcious and is only able to move her arm and leg on one side when doctors test her responses.
“She’s in very fragile condition,” Hernandez said Tuesday.
Hernandez said the family plans to hold a memorial service for the three who died Wednesday at a funeral home in Union County but are struggling to pull together funds to ship the three bodies back to south-central Mexico. (Andrade Chacon and his mother were from Michoacan; Bravo Aguilar was from Guanajuato.)
The family has started a GoFundMe page, in which they are asking for $5,000 to help with transport of the bodies and funerals in Mexico.
Andrade Chacon, Bravo Aguilar and their three children, ages 13, 11 and 7, moved to Charlotte from Mexico in September 2016, and settled into the apartment next door to Hernandez and her husband and three children. Hernandez’s husband and Andrade Chacon are brothers.
“We were a very close family,” Hernandez said. “When they moved here, the apartment complex gave her two choices of apartments, but she chose this one right next to me, so I could help her with whatever she needed.”
Andrade Chacon worked in construction. His wife stayed home and tended to the three children, Hernandez said. Andrade Chacon’s mother was visiting Charlotte from Mexico.
Hernandez said her sister-in-law had confided in her that her husband had verbally abused her in Mexico, threatening to kill her or her family if she ever left him. But she said her sister-in-law hoped the abuse would ease up once the family moved to Charlotte.
“She thought it would change, that once they got here it would be different,” Hernandez said.
The first few months did seem better, Hernandez said. But later, although her sister-in-law would often say that things were OK, she could see that under the surface she was scared.
“She didn’t talk about it much. She was very reserved,” Hernandez said. “But sometimes she would say ‘I’m living in a hell. My life is hell.’ ”
The family knew that Andrade Chacon owned firearms and permits and he enjoyed attending gun shows.
“But we never thought he would (try to) take the life of his wife, his daughter, his own mother,” Hernandez said.
“This was real domestic violence. People look at things like this like, ‘Maybe he doesn’t hit me, but he insults me’ and people die,” Hernandez said. “People need to know there are resources – there are people who can help you so that things like this don’t happen. Don’t stay quiet about this type of domestic violence.”
Dana Mangum, executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that when they learn a friend or family member might be facing domestic violence, they can discreetly offer to provide phone numbers for help or suggest that the person search for resources in their county on Google.
But that’s about the extent of the help they can offer, Mangum said.
“The victim will need to make the decision, because so much power and control has been taken by the abuser,” she said.
People stay in violent or abusive relationships for many reasons, Mangum said, including fears of losing child custody or financial security. Only the victim can decide if it’s time to leave, she said.
Recently-arrived immigrants facing language barriers are a particularly underserved population for domestic violence resources, Mangum said. Courts and service providers need to provide advocates and staff members who can communicate clearly with people who don’t speak English, she said.
In Mecklenburg County, victims of domestic violence can look to two main sources for help. One is Safe Alliance, which runs a shelter and helps victims during the court process, among other services. The other is the county’s Community Support Services office, which counsels children and adults facing domestic violence and works on prevention programs.
Safe Alliance has bilingual staff members in every department and an interpreter service for people who seek help and speak less common languages, the organization said Tuesday. The county offers crisis counseling in Spanish, according to its website.
For now, other family members are taking care of the dead couple’s 13-year-old and 7-year-old. Family members visit Tiffany in the hospital when possible, although visitors are limited while she is in such a critical state, Hernandez said.
On Tuesday, Hernandez looked at cell phone photos of the sweet-faced brunette with bangs, smiling in photos taken during Chacon-Perez’s 63rd birthday last April.
“Imagine.” Hernandez looks down and shakes her head. “Your own father destroys your life.”