'How could this happen?' Le Grand community reacts to killings of 3 young children




  • In US
  • 2022-01-14 21:36:58Z
  • By Merced Sun-Star
 

What words can describe the horror of a mother accused of taking the lives of her three small children - before attempting to take her own life?

That's the question on the minds of a small farming community's 1,739 residents in a rural stretch of Merced County in California's central San Joaquin Valley.

Le Grand, an unincorporated town, is set in the middle of miles and miles of fruit orchards and row crops. In many ways, the town feels protected by the 15-mile-wide buffer between itself and Merced, the county's largest city where homicides happen with much greater frequency.

So when Thursday's news dropped that Patricia Ortiz, 31, was being arrested on suspicion of murder for the Jan. 12 deaths of her children Anna Ortiz Lara, 8, Matteo Ortiz Lara, 5, and Alexa Ortiz Lara, 3, it was more than a shock to those who call Le Grand home.

"We never have anything like that," said Jose Lopez, a resident of Le Grand for nine years. "Only old people die here."

The small and quiet apartment complex where the Ortiz family lived, painted tan and set against a backdrop of single-story ranch houses, could not have been more ordinary.

Sheriff's deputies said they'd never had a problem in this complex. Crime didn't happen here, in a complex where residents feel comfortable taking a stroll with their kids outside, or walking to nearby Le Grand Elementary School together.

Cecilia Rodriguez, a clerk at the Le Grand Village Market - just a few hundred feet away from Le Grand Elementary School, where Ortiz's oldest two children were enrolled - also couldn't believe the news when she heard it.

"This is such a small town, and nothing like that ever happens here," said Rodriguez. "We all think it's shocking."

Neighbors, many of whom are farmworkers in a heavily agricultural community, told the Sun-Star that Ortiz had suffered from severe depression for months. While her neighbors urged her to get help in the weeks and months before the children's grisly deaths, the woman's mental health continued to decline.

"There's too much depression," said Mayra del Toro, a neighbor of the Ortiz family. "There's too much problems with the husband."

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, neighbors said Ortiz's husband came home and found the bodies of their children, in their beds. He ran out, screaming for help. Neighbors said they came to his aid before going inside the apartment he shared with his family to see the children for themselves. They called 911, also telling dispatchers that Ortiz was in the bathtub with cuts on her wrists.

"I cannot sleep because I remember everything with the babies," del Toro said on Thursday morning. "The wife was in the bathroom. She was cut in the shower. There was too much bleeding."

Ortiz was taken to the hospital to receive treatment for her injuries before Merced County Sheriff's deputies arrested her on suspicion of murder and booked her in the Merced County Jail. She was then taken to the county-run Marie Green Psychiatric Center for a mental health evaluation, according to the Merced County Sheriff's Office.

"It's really sad," Lopez said. "Everybody knows what's going on around here. It's a small community, so everybody knows what's up."

However helpful Ortiz's neighbors' tried to be, their repeated urges to Ortiz to seek help for her mental health troubles might have gone unheeded.

Some locals wonder whether more could have been done. "Somebody should have paid attention," said Jessie Chere, manager of Rancho Market in Le Grand. "Everyone is really shocked."

Where the case stands

A member of the Ortiz's extended family launched a GoFundMe account to help pay for the children's funeral expenses. As of 11 a.m. Friday, $29,533 had been raised towards the $30,000 goal.

While no charges have been filed by the Merced County District Attorney's Office yet, officials expect charges against Ortiz will be filed Monday or Tuesday.

Del Toro, one of the first neighbors to try to help Ortiz's husband, says she can't sleep after seeing the bodies of the three children in their beds.

At times, she seemed almost out of breath, unable to talk, recalling the nightmarish scene that kept her from sleeping the night before.

"I don't understand," said del Toro through her tears, still in her bathrobe on Thursday morning after a sleepless night. "Why kill the kids?"

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