1. Archive

Suspect in slayings arrested in Texas

Pedro Hernandez-Alberto doted on his 2-year-old daughter, buying her presents and carting her to a nearby flea market on Saturdays, neighbors said.

But he couldn't stand his stepdaughters, ages 11 and 29, and blamed them for his failed marriage to their mother, Hillsborough deputies said.

On Sunday, authorities said, Hernandez-Alberto killed the fifth-grader at their house in the south Hillsborough community of Apollo Beach near Ruskin _ but not before putting his own daughter, Gabriella, in another room. Officials said he then went to the family's nearby restaurant and shot the 29-year-old in the back as she prepared a meal.

"He did not like the stepchildren and did not like them living there," said Hillsborough Sheriff Cal Henderson. "He thought they were interfering with his relationship with his wife."

Hernandez-Alberto, 35, was arrested about 4 a.m. Monday in Brookshire, Texas, a rural town 40 miles west of Houston, deputies said. He had driven 16 hours and 1,025 miles. His native Mexico was five hours away.

A simple gesture brought Hernandez-Alberto to the attention of authorities: While parked at a gas station, he leaned forward in his 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass just as a police officer cruised by.

That stirred the officer's suspicions that the driver was hiding his face. The officer checked the Florida tag and learned that Hernandez-Alberto, registered owner of the car, was wanted in Hillsborough.

Texas authorities said Hernandez-Alberto acknowledged killing his stepchildren. His wife, Carmen Hernandez, told Hillsborough investigators she had spoken to him about divorce the night before the rampage.

Brookshire (Texas) Police Chief Joe Garcia said police found a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol on Hernandez-Alberto's car seat. Authorities think it was used in the murders. He had maps to Mexico and several thousand dollars in cash, Garcia said.

Hernandez-Alberto waived extradition Monday afternoon, Garcia said. He was in the Waller County jail awaiting transportation back to Tampa. Officials were not sure Monday when that would take place.

Garcia said Hernandez-Alberto remained calm during questioning and showed no remorse for the shootings.

"He didn't shed any tears," Garcia said.

Carmen Hernandez owns the Apollo Family Restaurant, where officials believe Hernandez-Alberto killed Isela Gonzalez with three blasts to her back Sunday. Earlier, they believe, he shot 11-year-old Donna Berezovsky once in her back at the family's home.

Sheila Singletary, a waitress at the diner, said that sometimes when Donna came to the restaurant after school, Hernandez-Alberto would nag her in Spanish, sometimes bringing her to tears.

"He was always picking on her," said Singletary, 36, who lives a few blocks from the home Hernandez-Alberto shared with his wife and her three children.

Hernandez tried to protect her daughter, telling her husband to ease up on Berezovsky, Singletary said, but Hernandez-Alberto would threaten to steal their toddler and take her back to Mexico.

The couple met through the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall on U.S. 301 three years ago and at first lived alone in Hernandez-Alberto's home, Singletary said. But soon Carmen became pregnant with Gabriella and found the commute too much, so she and Hernandez-Alberto moved in with her other children at the residence on Fox Run Trail, which is much closer to Hernandez's Apollo Family Restaurant.

That irked Hernandez-Alberto, Singletary said. When the baby was born, Donna wasn't allowed to pick her up, or even push the stroller.

But his resentment had never exploded publicly before. A countrywide check found Hernandez-Alberto did not have a criminal record anywhere in the U.S., deputies said. Authorities had never been called to the couple's home before Sunday.

Still, though Hernandez-Alberto didn't speak much English at work, it was clear he and Carmen were at odds. "You could tell they were fighting," Singletary said.

Terri Singletary, 38, Sheila Singletary's relative who also used to work in the restaurant, said that Gonzalez seemed in good spirits when she saw her Sunday at work. Gonzalez told her she had gotten engaged the night before.