A 6-year-old Santa Rosa girl and her little brother, an 18-month-old toddler, were supposed to be back with their mother Sunday night after spending Father’s Day with dad.
They never made it home.
Amid a turbulent custody dispute, police said the father killed his two children and then hanged himself in his small one-bedroom apartment on a quiet street in the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood near downtown.
The bodies of the children and their father, Alvaro Botelho da Camara, a 40-year-old Santa Rosa man, were discovered Monday morning when deputies responding to the mother’s worried calls climbed through a window to get into the Slater Street apartment.
The father had hanged himself. The children’s bodies lay nearby.
“The mother and the father, they were married and have been separated for some time now,” Santa Rosa Police Lt. John Cregan said. “They have been struggling to balance the relationship with their kids, but I believe this was a shock to the family that it deteriorated to this.”
Police Tuesday morning identified the father, but haven’t released names of the children. Cregan Monday said they were still notifying family members about the deaths.
Police said it wasn’t immediately clear how the children died. A cause of death is pending an autopsy.
The children were last seen alive Sunday morning when the mother brought the 18-month-old boy to the father’s apartment where his sister had spent the night, according to police. The children and their dad were to spend Father’s Day together, with a plan to reunite with their mother later in the day.
But the father missed the 7 p.m. appointment to give the children back to their mother. By 7:30 p.m., the mother, who lives in an unincorporated neighborhood, had called the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to ask deputies to check on her children.
Deputies responded, and Sunday night began trying to reach the father, at one point leaving a business card in the door, according to police. They made “multiple attempts to contact the father and check the welfare of the two children” before entering the apartment about 9:30 a.m. Monday, police officials said in a statement.
Sgt. John Ludtke, who runs the violent crimes investigations team, said police are trying to develop a timeline of the father’s activities to determine when the killings occurred. Detectives also planned to interview the deputies to learn precisely when and how they tried to reach the father.
Ludtke said neighbors have told police they had overheard what sounded like loud arguments between the man and his estranged wife.
Neighbors said they knew the man by his first name, Al.
One neighbor said Al was relatively new to the 10-unit apartment complex, moving in several months ago.
“It’s very close quarters here,” said Julia Poncia, who has lived in the building for about four years. “His little kids were so sweet. He seemed like a good father, but I don’t know his personal problems.”
Throughout the day Monday, yellow police tape blocked a portion of Slater Street limiting access to the light green, two-story building, located between College Avenue and Benton Street.
Chaplains were dispatched to the neighborhood to support distraught family members, Cregan said. Relatives of the victims arrived at the scene early Monday afternoon, but were stopped by police officers who tried to calm the distraught couple, the woman wailing loudly and reluctant to leave the area.