HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas (KVEO) — The year 2020 was deadly, not just in hospital rooms, but in everyday homes and cities across the Rio Grande Valley.
COVID-19 isn’t just killing people through the virus, it’s also playing a part in violent murders across the Rio Grande Valley.
A KVEO special report uncovered a massive increase in domestic violence homicides across South Texas.
“Our murder rate is up 400 percent,” said Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra.
Why the sky rocket increase?
“It’s a lot of negative issues going on with the family, because you have kids not going to school, they are at home more, you might have only one person working because of the pandemic and everyone having to stay at home more often,” said Sheriff Guerra.
Whatever the case is, there is one common denominator: Stress, a side effect from COVID-19.
“With this pandemic going on, it just increases that environment, it’s that stress,” said Guerra.
Losing a loved one to domestic violence is a pain that never goes away.
“We had 1 murder in 2019 and in 2020 we had 5 murders,” said Guerra.
The most recent murder was on New Years Eve.
30-year-old Olga Guadalupe Guevara and 58-year-old Maria de La Luz Reyes Martinez were found dead inside their trailer home on Kenny Lane, North of Mile 15, in rural Hidalgo County.
Police say Augustin Adan Castellano killed both women.
One he was married to and the other was his mother-in-law.
“The sad thing in that one is he did that in front of his children, so you know that was a sad scene,” said Guerra.
One month before that, 83-year-old Jesus Villareal is suspected of murdering his wife, 74-year-old Maria Alaniz Villareal, and their daughter, 41-year-old Crystal Villareal in San Benito.
On October 30th, Edinburg Police received a call from the Laredo Police Department regarding a welfare concern at the 800 block of Russian Avenue.
When officers arrived, they found the apartment broken into and a man and a woman inside dead.
A 9mm unmarked handgun was found near the body of the male.
Investigators later confirmed the woman, 23-year-old Alyssa Martinez was killed by 25-year-old Alan Olivo, her ex-boyfriend, after an altercation.
Police documents say Olivo drove from Laredo to Edinburg the night of the murder-suicide.
In August, the remains of 37-year-old Melissa Banda were found in rural Hidalgo County.
Sheriff deputies say her ex-husband kidnapped her from her driveway, then murdered her.
Banda had been reported missing for nearly 24 hours before her body was found.
“She was just trying to move on with her life and he didn’t like that,” said Guerra.
In July, two McAllen Police Officers, Edelmiro Garza, 45, and Ismael Chavez, 39, were shot to death when responding to a 911 domestic violence call.
In April, Police found the bodies of 73-year-old Lindolfo Meza Sanchez and 41-year-old Bertha Bermudez on Mountain View Drive in rural Edinburg.
Both were found with gunshots to their heads.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Deputies classified that case as a murder-suicide connected to domestic violence.
And it isn’t just murders going up, Guerra says it’s all domestic violence calls.
“Our domestic disputes went from 511 in 2019 to 664 in 2020, so it’s a 30% increase,” said Guerra.
A Sullivan City commissioner died during a shootout with police at his home in Mission when officers arrived following a report of domestic violence.
Police say he attacked his wife with a machete and harmed her son, sending both to the hospital.
Penitas, Mercedes, Palmhurst, and Mission Police all had cases of barricaded subjects connected to family violence in the year 2020.
In 2020, 11 law enforcement departments in Hidalgo County investigated 29 murder cases.
As 2021 takes over and mass vaccinations are happening in the valley, police pray the stress will decrease.
“We’re just praying that these cases go down and we hope we see less and less of these domestic dispute calls and we hope these murders involving domestic violence go down,” said Sheriff Guerra, “Don’t wait until it escalates. Reach out and ask for help.”
If you are a victim of domestic violence, reach out to your local law enforcement agency.
If you would like help from an outside agency, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233)