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Troubles had mounted for mother suspected of killing two daughters

Relatives say the Sun Valley woman had lost her job and been hospitalized for stress. Her mother's home, where they lived, was in foreclosure.

September 05, 2009|Hector Becerra

Edith Moreno was only 12 years old, but last week the Sun Valley girl had a serious question for her friend and next-door neighbor Karina Valdez.

What happens when we die?

Karina and her parents are Jehovah's Witnesses. Taking her Bible, 12-year-old Karina explained that death was like going to sleep and waiting to be resurrected by God.

"I didn't really think anything about it because we were teaching her about our other beliefs," said Karina's mother, Irene Bell. "Edith was just a wonderful, happy child. She was the biggest tomboy. She never complained about anything. "

On Wednesday morning, Edith and her big sister, Diana Moreno, 17, were found dead, their throats slashed. On Friday, their mother, Antonia Gomez, 38, was arrested on suspicion of killing her daughters.

Edith was found in a house in the 7800 block of Irvine Avenue. Her sister was found in a converted garage in the back, along with their mother, who was hospitalized with knife wounds to her body and wrists. A 14-year-old daughter who was not at the house when the killings happened was taken into protective custody.

In front of the light blue stucco home, near a "For Sale" sign, candles formed a memorial on a concrete patch of the yard. On the sidewalk, a tan sofa lay on its back, streaked by dried blood.

There was a list of things going wrong in Gomez's life. About eight months before, she had gotten into a scuffle with the 14-year-old. Ana Maria Fuentes, 40, Gomez's aunt, said her niece told her she was trying to defend herself and bit her daughter on the arm. The girl ran away, and after she was found at her school, she was examined, Fuentes said, adding that police and social workers questioned Gomez.

Susan Jakobowski, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Children and Family Services, declined to discuss details of the case but she said the department was investigating its contact with the family.

Gomez lost her job at a sandwich shop about three months ago and was hospitalized for stress shortly after, relatives said.

She and her three daughters moved into the pink converted garage with Gomez's mother. The girls' grandmother, Gloria Fuentes, 57, was trying to scratch out a living by pushing a shopping cart every morning and rummaging for recyclables.

Fuentes owned the property, and until days before the killings had rented out the home in the front.

But she was unable to make the mortgage, and with the home's value plummeting, the property went into foreclosure. Gomez, her mother and the three girls were going to have to find another place to live, relatives said.

Irene Bell said that the morning of the killings, she saw Gomez but did not sense anything ominous. Like many people in the neighborhood, including Bell's husband, she was out of a job and money was on her mind.

"I talked to her about 7:15 that morning. She was watering the grass, and we talked about the fire," Bell recalled. "The week before, she told me that if I find a job for her, let her know. She said she was looking for a job or they would all have to go to Mexico."

Gomez's brother, Bernardo Gomez Fuentes, 36, of Prescott, Ariz., said that whatever problems his sister had, they really began in the family's hometown of Ixtapa de la Sal in Mexico, where they grew up poor.

"She didn't have the mental well-being to deal with too much pressure," Gomez Fuentes said. "I just can't visualize her doing this, killing her girls. If she did, she didn't have her five senses."

For years she tried to make a living as a street vendor, selling candy and snacks. But about seven years ago, she came to the United States. For a while, things seemed to be going well for her, and she raised enough money to bring her three daughters to be with her.

Relatives said she had no history of violence toward her children or anyone else.

Diana, the 17-year-old, was serious-minded and protective of her mother, relatives said. A couple of years ago she celebrated her quinceanera in the backyard with a big party her grandmother threw for her.

"She was the most centered of the three; she was very serious," Gomez Fuentes said. "But there was also the impotence of her youth, seeing her mom with no money, nothing to eat, bills they couldn't pay. She must have felt powerless."

They had lived with their grandmother in Sun Valley before, but only returned recently as "a last resort," Ana Maria Fuentes said.

"She didn't have money, she didn't have a job, and sometimes they didn't have food," she said.

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hector.becerra@latimes.com

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