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Man who shot woman in Largo murder-suicide had previously been charged with trying to kill her

Rochelle Tatrai refused to testify against her partner, Sean Ray, in court.
Rochelle Tatrai refused to testify against her partner, Sean Ray, in court.
Published Dec. 20, 2014

LARGO — Helping people was Rochelle Tatrai's job. The CEO of a nonprofit with 600 employees, she advocated for children in broken families, the mentally handicapped, and most recently unaccompanied youngsters who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Tatrai also needed help. She was shot dead Thursday by the same man who police said beat her with a metal baseball bat and threatened to kill her 12 years ago.

"It's just a real tragedy," said Jay Miller, board chairman of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, the organization Tatrai led. "Everybody here is in shock."

Though they never married, Tatrai and Sean Ray, both 46, were together for many years and had two daughters together, now ages 16 and 20.

They were living in Pennsylvania in 2002 when the couple separated. Tatrai went to Ray's apartment building to return a key, but he forced her upstairs and punched her, beat her with a bat, and threatened to kill her, according to articles from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

She jumped from a third-story balcony to escape and suffered several fractures and contusions, spending the next several months in rehab. According to the newspaper, Ray was charged with attempted murder, but the case was dismissed when Tatrai refused to testify in court.

The family eventually moved to Florida, where Tatrai began a career as a licensed mental health therapist at Gulf Coast. For the next 13 years, she rose through the organization, eventually being named CEO this year, Miller said.

"She was someone who was a real humanitarian," he said. "She was always concerned about our clients and passionate about helping people who needed help."

Tatrai never talked about her personal life.

On Thursday, she didn't make it to the organization's holiday party. Employees thought it was strange she didn't even call.

Between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Ray, who was living in Lutz, arrived at Tatrai's townhome, south of Ulmerton Road, and shot her multiple times with a semiautomatic before shooting himself with a revolver, Largo police said Friday.

Their youngest daughter, arriving home from school, found their bodies and flagged down a utility worker who called 911.

"It's one of those things you just kind of have to get your mind around it," said executive director of the Juvenile Welfare Board, Dr. Marcie Biddleman, who often worked with Tatrai. "The fact that that person is no longer here."

Although his Pennsylvania criminal history was not available Friday, Florida records show Ray received one year of probation on a DUI conviction and was arrested once for cocaine possession, but the charge was later dropped.

Their families could not be reached for comment Friday.

Erica Wiedemann, director of the Haven of RCS, a domestic violence center, said victims often don't press charges against their abusers due to many factors: fear, the desire to keep the family united, financial reasons.

In Tatrai's case, Wiedemann added: "It could be that she is definitely fearing that people are going to question her ability to lead a helping organization."

Ray was not living with her, which may mean she was making an effort to get him out of her life.

"She took some steps and had done I'm sure what she thought was responsible to get him away from her," said Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA, adding it wasn't enough.

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727)445-4157.