TAMPA — Two teen girls saw their mother brutally slain with a machete Sunday in their Tampa home.
From the kitchen, they could hear her screams. They ran to her bedroom door and kicked it down. When they saw the attacker's face, they fled out of fear.
"Run! Run!" one of them said he yelled after them, in Spanish.
Police charged Alexander Cote Ferrer, 39, with second-degree murder in the Sunday night death of his longtime girlfriend, Danitza Fonseca, 50. They say he stabbed her with a machete.
The young women say they had warned their mother for years that the domestic violence might turn fatal. Just last January, Cote Ferrer threatened one of them, 18-year-old Jennifer Fonseca, and her mother with a machete and an aluminum baseball bat, Tampa police say.
Jennifer Fonseca grabbed a kitchen knife to defend herself and her mom, court records state. They called 911.
In a sworn statement about the January incident, now in court files, Danitza Fonseca wrote that her boyfriend has mental health problems and that he's aggressive. For two weeks before that attack, he had not been taking his medication, she wrote.
"I can't help him any more," she wrote.
But last month, she told prosecutors she wanted to drop the case. He was receiving mental health counseling, she said. In early July, the case was closed.
Domestic violence experts say it's common for victims to hope their lovers will change.
"You see cases where the batterer is able to convince the survivor that he will change, that he has changed," said Leisa Wiseman, spokeswoman for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Danitza Fonseca's youngest daughter, 16-year-old GiGi Fonseca, who also witnessed Sunday's attack, said her mother thought she could help her boyfriend through prayer and hard work.
She drove him to mental health appointments and picked up his medications, GiGi Fonseca said.
The couple received disability checks — she for health problems and he for mental issues, GiGi Fonseca said.
"She felt as if Alex's problems could be cured," she said. "But sometimes people can't change."
Speaking from the front porch of their home near the Port of Tampa, Danitza Fonseca's daughters said they saw signs that the attack was planned.
On Saturday, Danitza Fonseca's eldest daughter, Greilhys Quijada, 33, couldn't find any forks or knives in the house, she said.
On Sunday, Cote Ferrer asked the two teen daughters, as well as Jennifer Fonseca's boyfriend, to make dinner, drawing them to the kitchen during the attack, GiGi Fonseca said.
When the three of them ran out of the house, they found the gate locked, forcing them to jump over the fence. Later, they discovered knives in the back shed, where Cote Ferrer had spent several hours drinking Bacardi Gold rum earlier Sunday, GiGi Fonseca said.
"I'm just so upset that we weren't able to stop this," she said.
She and Jennifer Fonseca said they aren't sure where they'll go or what they'll do to support themselves. Their father died several years ago from brain cancer, GiGi Fonseca said.
They're also not sure how they'll pay for their mother's funeral. She had asked to be buried, GiGi Fonseca said, and they'll find a way.
"She was very loving," Quijada said. "She just wanted to help him."
Times news researcher Natalie Watson and staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.