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Triple killings, suicide shock Defiance County community

Autopsies of Garza family ordered as sheriff, others look for answers

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    A relative of the Garza family discovered the four bodies Thursday night at this house on Bowman Road in Highland Township. Authorities believe the weapon used — described as a ‘hand-held gun’ — was found at the scene.

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A relative of the Garza family discovered the four bodies Thursday night at this house on Bowman Road in Highland Township. Authorities believe the weapon used — described as a ‘hand-held gun’ — was found at the scene.

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AYERSVILLE, Ohio — Authorities believe a 68-year-old Highland Township man shot and killed three generations of women in his family and himself — violence that stunned some who knew the family from this rural region of Defiance County.

Robert Garza, Sr. — who lived with his wife, Christine Garza, 61; daughter Zoila Garza, 42; and granddaughter Rebecca Garza, 15, in a Bowman Road house — is suspected of the triple homicide and then shooting himself.

A family member checked on the Garzas, who last had been seen at 3 p.m. Wednesday, and found their bodies Thursday night.

The grisly discovery left Defiance County Sheriff David Westrick searching for what prompted the shootings — which shocked others.

“I didn’t think he had any demons,” said Mike Williams, veterans’ service officer with Defiance County Veterans Affairs.

Mr. Williams had known Garza for several years and helped him receive treatment and compensation for disabilities related to his service in the Vietnam War. Garza served in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1967.

He showed no signs of violence, said Mr. Williams, who last spoke with Garza in September.



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“If somebody then would have said, ‘You know, this is probably going to happen,’ I would have told them they were off their rocker,” Mr. Williams said. “There’s just no way … absolutely no way that I would have ever anticipated this happening.”



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Sheriff Westrick said evidence at the scene, which he would not detail, and interviews with people who knew the family made him sure Garza acted as perpetrator, but the investigation continues.

“We’re confident that we’re on the right path. We hope that additional people come forward and give us information, because we’d like to know what the motive was, and at the present time, we don’t have any clue as to that,” he said.

The weapon authorities believe was used — described by the sheriff as a “hand-held gun” — was found at the scene.

Dr. Gary Okuley, Defiance County coroner, ordered autopsies, which were to be performed by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office. He said it appeared all four were shot, and his observation at the scene leads him to think the shootings likely happened during the night. Zoila Garza and her daughter were in the same bed. Christine Garza was in bed in another room, while Garza was on the floor nearby, he said.

Dr. Okuley said no note was left. Sheriff Westrick said there was no 911 tape of the initial call because it came to a nonemergency police line that is not recorded.

The family house, located on a large, snow-covered lot where two vehicles were parked in an unshoveled driveway — was silent Friday morning. Ruth Strayer, a longtime next-door neighbor, described Garza and his family as “sweet.”

“They were good people, very good. It’s just hard to wrap your mind around it,” she said.

Garza retired from General Motors Co.’s site in Defiance, Ms. Strayer said. She last spoke to Zoila Garza on Sunday during the Super Bowl. They chatted on the telephone, and nothing about the conversation seemed unusual.

Garza suffered a stroke several months ago, several people who knew the family said. Christine Garza took three months off from her part-time job at Big Lots in Defiance to help with his recovery, store manager Dave Stoots said. She quit a couple of weeks ago because of concerns about her husband’s health and a physical health issue she was dealing with, he said.

Christine Garza appeared happy, her family “rock-solid.” She smiled often and was a good employee of the store where she had worked for more than 10 years.

“She’s going to be missed dearly,” Mr. Stoots said.

Rebecca Garza was a sophomore at Ayersville Local Schools, but attended Defiance Senior High School’s multiple disabilities unit, Defiance Principal Robert Morton said. The unit teaches students independent living skills such as cooking and money management.

The high school had staff members available to talk to any students who wanted to discuss the deaths.

“Nobody can understand this,” Mr. Morton said.

Sheriff Westrick said his office did not have previous incidents involving Garza, who he said suffered from other health problems in addition to the stroke but didn’t elaborate.

He said Garza’s family indicated he had been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, though the sheriff stressed authorities aren’t blaming the shootings on that.

Mr. Williams said the claims for veterans’ assistance weren’t related to Agent Orange exposure.

Mr. Williams said Garza asked about additional assistance because he said his daughter Zoila was a dependent and also disabled. The paperwork was pending.

None of his conversations with Garza, whom he described as proud of his military service and “very personable” with a neat, “squared-away” appearance, gave him pause.

“I about fell out of my chair this morning,” Mr. Williams said upon learning of Garza’s alleged involvement in the shootings.

“I was just totally in shock.”

Ayersville is about 60 miles southwest of Toledo.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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