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Husband Says Despair Led Wife to Kill Child

Tragedy: He says she strangled their son because she was distraught by mounting debts that made it hard to provide for the boy. Woman later stepped in front of train.

May 04, 1997|BONNIE HAYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — By all accounts, Rosanna Hooper was a model mother.

She adored her son, Daniel, a bony 11-year-old who loved animals, throwing his "wicked" curve ball and playing video games. Almost every day the two were seen bouncing along in Hooper's white Ford van, a clunking older model that stalled regularly at the end of their cul-de-sac on North Merrimac Road, where Daniel would give an exasperated sigh and cross his fingers for the van to recover.

But recently Hooper reportedly became distraught over mounting financial woes. Her husband said she was upset about $50,000 in credit card debt and not being able to provide for her son the way she would have liked.

"She cried all the time," George Hooper said of his wife of 25 years. "When her hours were cut back at work, she started keeping Daniel home from school with her. She slept more and talked less. She was so far down."

Sometime on Friday afternoon, George Hooper said, depression apparently turned a patient, doting mother into a desperate killer. He said his son was strangled with a pair of pantyhose. Police have not released details of the crime.

Rosanna Hooper apparently then drove her van to nearby Eisenhower Park--where she often went with Daniel to feed the ducks--and hiked a quarter-mile down the hill toward the railroad tracks.

Police said Rosanna Hooper, 48, crouched behind some bushes and then stepped in front of a Metrolink train about 6 p.m., ending her life instantly. Orange Police Lt. Art Romo said a knife with some dried blood on it was found near the body, but would not say whether it was connected to the apparent murder-suicide.

"She finally snapped, is what I think," George Hooper said Saturday at the one-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife and son. "Daniel was her life. She would never be happy, never be able to live with herself, if she couldn't give him everything he wanted."

Anaheim police detectives swarmed the home Friday after the 46-year-old electronics salesman returned from work to find his son dead on the bed. George Hooper said he first thought Daniel was asleep.

But then, he said, he saw a ring of blood around Daniel's mouth and fell to his knees beside the bed. "I grabbed him, I shook him. I yelled for Rosie," George Hooper said, crying. "I saw the pantyhose around his neck and I put my ear to his chest, but the only sound I could hear was my own heart beating."

He said he dialed 911, moved Daniel to the floor and started administering CPR.

George Hooper said detectives were particularly interested in Rosanna Hooper's finances. The couple had lived together in Fountain Valley for years, where Daniel played Little League and attended Gisler Elementary School.

Two years ago, they separated. Their problems were a mix of George Hooper's concern that Rosanna Hooper "didn't give Daniel much space to grow" and a failed business venture that quickly pushed the family into debt, he said.

After George Hooper moved to the Anaheim apartment, Rosanna Hooper lost a data entry clerk job and started using credit cards to pay the rent at the Fountain Valley townhouse, he said. Soon, one card hit its $20,000 credit limit and another was not far behind, he said. Always generous when it came to her son, George Hooper said, his wife charged baseball uniforms and toys, food and computer games.

In September, Rosanna Hooper left the townhouse and moved in with her husband, who said they discussed getting back together "for Daniel's sake."

A painfully shy boy who preferred to stay inside, Daniel seemed to like the new family setup, said George Hooper. With incomes that at times dwindled to $150 a week, luxuries were scarce, he said, but Daniel never complained.

George Hooper said his wife told him they weren't fit to take care of their son the way he deserved, and berated herself constantly. Although he never had a reason to suspect that Rosanna would harm their son, George Hooper said, he wishes now he had been more responsive to her depression.

"She had this idea of what the perfect family should look like and she wanted it for Daniel," he said. "She just had this great, big, old heart."

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