Family members in El Salvador say a missing woman's husband had a history of hitting her, raising new fears for her safety after the husband was found hanged and their four children dead in a Frederick townhouse, according to a diplomat from the Central American country.
Ana Margarita Chavez, El Salvador's consul general in Washington, appealed yesterday on a Spanish-language television station that broadcasts in the Baltimore-Washington area for the woman to contact her.
Chavez's message, which included her cell phone number, promised that the conversation between the two would be confidential. Chavez also promised to protect the woman.
"Her family in El Salvador is really worried about her right now," Chavez said. "I have the hope that she will listen to the message and call me back."
The woman, Deysi M. Benitez, 25, has not been seen for almost two weeks.
Benitez's family in Sensuntepeque, which is in north-central El Salvador, said that her husband, Pedro Rodriguez, hit her as recently as December, said Chavez, who was contacted by investigators trying to find the woman.
In a telephone interview with the Associated Press in El Salvador, Benitez's sister, Angela, said Deysi Benitez and Pedro Rodriguez were having problems in their marriage.
"He beat her," Angela Benitez said. "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."
Police, who classified Benitez as a missing person Monday, say that she was last seen March 16.
Police have received little information from the public about Benitez.
"We are getting certain calls from people who are acquainted with her," said Lt. Thomas Chase, a commander of the criminal investigations division of the Frederick Police Department. "They are calling to help us with prior contact with children or people she was friends with. I'd characterize the calls as brisk."
Before the discovery of the bodies in the couple's townhouse Monday, police had been to the residence eight times in the past year.
The incidents, which included noise and parking complaints, disorderly conduct and a verbal altercation between the couple, rarely resulted in a police report. No arrests were made.
"We have been told by neighbors of certain incidents involving disputes between the two of them," Chase said.
Blanca Picazo, who helps women who are victims of domestic violence in Baltimore's Latino community, said a lack of information and the language barrier are commonly associated with domestic violence cases in immigrant communities.
"Many times they do not know that they can file for a protection order," Picazo said. "Sometimes they are scared that something will happen -- that they will be deported and have children taken away. They are isolated, too -- that is part of the control."
Police are analyzing Benitez's cell phone records, contacting past employers and working with El Salvador officials to locate her.
"We're doing lots of things," Chase said. "We're looking at virtually anything that we can come up with to find her."
Using a bill found in the family's home, police are analyzing the calling patterns of the missing woman's cell phone, which has not been located.
The last time the phone was used for an outgoing call was March 16, Chase said. The last incoming call was March 18. That call, which was unanswered, originated from the family's townhouse phone, Chase said.
"Most of the calls on the cell phone were to the house," he said.
Chase did not know if Benitez owned any other personal communication devices.
Benitez's sisterbecame worried when the daily phone calls the women exchanged abruptly stopped March 16.
Through Angela, Chavez has learned that Rodriguez's relatives are also "sad and in shock" by the news. Chavez said Benitez and Rodriguez are from the same town, and that their families live in close proximity, and are in constant communication with each other.
Police discovered the bodies after they were alerted by school officials that the children had not shown up for school in several days.
Rodriguez, 28, had apparently committed suicide. His body was hanging in the foyer, a yellow nylon rope around his neck and tied to a second-floor banister.
The four children were found dead in beds with blankets covering them from head to toe. Police identified them Tuesday as the couple's three girls, Elsa, 9, Vanessa, 4, and Carena, 1, and a boy, Angel, 3.
The children, who appeared to have been dead for several days, did not show any signs that they were shot or stabbed, according to Chase. Autopsies conducted Tuesday at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore revealed no conclusive cause of death for any of the five. A determination will not be made until toxicology tests are completed, which could take a week, Chase said.
The search for Benitez is delaying the funeral plans for her four children and husband.
It is unclear whether the bodies will be laid to rest in Maryland, sent back to the parents' native El Salvador, or given to Benitez's other sister, who lives in Maryland. Attempts to reach the Maryland sister were unsuccessful.
The bodies are at the medical examiner's office in Baltimore and are expected to be sent to the State Anatomy Board for storage this week.
Police say that if Benitez is alive, she would be responsible for funeral plans.
When a body without an established next of kin is sent to the medical examiner's office, the office can hold the body for 72 hours before sending it to the State Anatomy Board, according to Dr. David Fowler, the state's chief medical examiner.
A body may remain with the Anatomy Board for an indefinite time, according to Ronn Wade, director of the State Anatomy Board in Baltimore.
If a next of kin is not determined, it is up to the Anatomy Board to decide what happens to the remains.
Though the board provides bodies for medical schools, that will not be the case with these, Wade said.
Chavez said both sides of the family want the bodies returned to El Salvador. Chavez said yesterday that she planned to contact additional family members, including Rodriguez's brothers who live in Los Angeles, about funeral plans.
To see the video appeal by Chavez, to go www.baltimoresun.com/frederick