A South Florida man who killed two of his sons before killing himself had declined an invitation to a party hours earlier, saying he had to do "something important," his roommate said.
Boynton Beach police say Isidro Zavala killed his younger sons, 12-year-old Eduardo and 11-year-old Mario, about 2 a.m. Saturday at his estranged wife's home on S.W. 8th Avenue.
According to police, Victoria Zavala was watching television when she heard a commotion just before 2 a.m. She found Isidro Zavala choking one of his sons, and she begged him to kill her and spare the boys.
Police said Isidro Zavala told her that he would leave her alive to suffer their loss. She was not injured. Officers found both boys dead at the scene, and they found Zavala, dressed all in black, dead with self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the chest and head.
"This is an unusually brutal type of murder," said Boynton Beach Police Chief Matthew Immler.
The Palm Beach Post reports that the couple had filed for divorce in October after nearly 20 years of marriage. They were scheduled to go to court Tuesday for a mediation hearing.
Zavala's roommate said he last saw Zavala on Friday evening at their house, less than a mile away from the crime scene. Mariano Batalla told the newspaper that Zavala said he couldn't attend a friend's birthday party because "he had to do something important."
Batalla said he returned from the party around midnight and repeatedly tried to call Zavala, who never answered his phone. Zavala's truck remained parked in their driveway. Police woke Batalla about 5 a.m. and told him what happened.
"I feel so, so, so sad because he's my best friend," Batalla said. "It's a big surprise for me. He don't tell me nothing about this."
The Zavalas also have a 19-year-old son who does not live at his mother's house. Investigators found a note from Zavala to his oldest son in a bag at the crime scene.
In the note, Zavala told the 19-year-old that he was a good son and to take care of himself, Immler said. The bag also contained a second gun, extra ammunition, duct tape and cutting shears.
A second note was found at Isidro Zavala's home, but police did not release its contents.
Batalla was quoted by the newspaper Sunday as saying that the second note was addressed to him. He said Zavala left him several hundred dollars and instructions to keep his truck and work tools.
Victoria Zavala had been licensed as a cosmetologist, and Isidro Zavala owned a landscaping company.
Children who live across the street say they last saw Mario several days ago when they were flying kites with another friend. They remembered him playing in their backyard or playing video games, and they could not understand why Mario's father would kill him.
Police said they had never visited the Zavalas' home. A spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families said the agency also had no previous history with the family.
Batalla said he knew Zavala as a gentle friend who made pork and rice dishes for special occasions and who walked to church every weekend. Batalla had recently been baptized, and he had encouraged Zavala to do the same.
"But he kept telling me, `No, not yet,'" Batalla said. "He said he wanted to learn more before he got baptized."