By RUFFIN PREVOST, Gazette Wyoming Bureau
Published on Wednesday, November 07, 2007.
LOVELL, Wyo. – Two families joined by marriage and grief struggled Tuesday to make sense of a shooting that left a husband and wife dead and two young children without parents. Ongoing depression over the hardships of serving in Afghanistan and Iraq may have played a role in sparking the incident, said relatives of Steven D. Lopez.
An active-duty sergeant in the U.S. Army, Lopez, 23, shot his wife, Brenda Lee Davila, 22, before turning the gun on himself Monday afternoon.
“Our hearts go out so much for Brenda’s family,” said Daniel Lopez, Steven Lopez’s father. “We can’t even begin to – it’s terrible. It’s the ultimate pain, to lose a child, and it makes it so much worse to know your child took a life. We feel so bad for the other family,” he said.
Outside Brenda Davila’s Carmon Avenue residence Tuesday afternoon, her mother, Martha Davila, laid a single red rose on the concrete walkway leading from the sidewalk to the home. Family members consoled her as she tearfully commemorated the spot where the shooting happened.
“She was always joking and laughing. She was a lot of fun to be around,” recalled Carlos DeLaCruz, Davila’s cousin. “The last time I came over, about a week ago, I walked in the door and she had me in a headlock, just messing around.
“She was happy to be home with her parents,” he said.
Based on accounts by police and family members, the couple had a dispute around 1:30 p.m. Monday, with Davila saying she did not want Lopez to see their toddler children, a boy and girl. Lopez then walked to his sister’s house, where he retrieved her .38-caliber revolver and drove back in her car to confront Davila, said Amy Lopez, his sister.
Lopez told Davila that if he couldn’t see the children, then neither could she. Then he shot her and, without hesitation, shot himself. It all happened in seconds, said Lovell Police Chief Nick Lewis.
Lewis said as many as seven people witnessed the event. “I don’t think it was a plan,” Amy Lopez said of the incident.
“Right before, he was talking about going back (to the Army), and he had just cut his hair,” she said. Lopez was listed Tuesday as absent without leave from the Army, according to a clerk with the U.S. Army Enlisted Records and Evaluation and Center. He was due to return to base by Oct. 18, Lewis said.
“We were making arrangements for a bus or plane ticket. He knew he needed help. That’s what he was going to go back for, was help,” Daniel Lopez said. Steven Lopez served with a construction repair unit in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he and Davila had bought a home and had been living.
They met in Lovell at Christmastime 2004 and got married soon afterward, family members said. Lopez had talked with doctors at Fort Bragg about his depression, Amy Lopez said.
He had been prescribed Paxil, an anti-depressant, but did not consistently take the medication, said Judy Lopez, his mother. After running into some trouble as a teenager, Steven Lopez joined the Army at 18, shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his father said.
He served first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq during 2006. “After that was when he really started having a tough time,” Daniel Lopez said.
“He volunteered for a lot of patrols, and he participated in a lot of close combat situations. He told me he had seen a lot of things that he couldn’t even talk to me about,” he said.
“We knew he would have bouts where he was really depressed, but he would assure us he would be OK.” Steven Lopez had once wanted to make a career of the military but became disillusioned with the Army after Iraq and wanted to use his training to find a civilian job and focus on his marriage, his family said.
They credited Davila with helping Lopez advance to the rank of sergeant, and they said he was devastated that she had decided not to return to Fort Bragg with him.
Members of both families said Lopez’s recent behavior was uncharacteristic.
“He was most definitely not himself,” Amy Lopez said.
“But he was trying very hard to be,” Daniel Lopez said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at email@example.com or 307-527-7250.
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