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Pasco sheriff: Mentally ill man kills mother, attacks nieces (w/ video)

The Pasco Sheriff's Office SWAT team responded to a home on Catherine Street in New Port Richey early Thursday morning and wound up in a standoff with murder suspect Jason Rios, 23 (inset). [Bay News 9]
Published Feb. 6, 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — The screams reached Ernesto Rios in the shower and led him to his young granddaughter, bloodied and battered but still alive early Thursday morning.

He ran to another room and found his other granddaughter, severely hurt, and the girls' uncle standing over her, holding a blunt weapon. Rios wrestled him from the home.

Sheriff's deputies would ultimately find the body of Ernesto's wife, Angela Rios, who was 55.

After an hourslong standoff, they arrested the uncle, Jason Rios, 24, a paranoid schizophrenic who the Pasco County sheriff said may have been using drugs. He was hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds from a drill and faces a charge of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

Inside the home, deputies found a scene so gruesome that Sheriff Chris Nocco said he will make sure they receive mental health counseling.

"You can see in their eyes this is one of the cases that's going to live with them forever," he said.

• • •

Outside the home on Catherine Street, which Ernesto and Angela Rios shared with their son and four grandchildren, Nocco described the chaos that unfolded there earlier.

When Ernesto awoke Thursday, he found his son pacing throughout the house. The elder Rios woke the children and began to get them ready for school, then got into the shower. That's when he heard the screams.

He ran toward his granddaughters' rooms and found his son brandishing a weapon, which authorities have not identified. He grabbed the weapon and his son. After dragging him outside, a bystander called 911.

Jason tried to get back inside the home and charged at arriving deputies. He fled to a neighboring house and barricaded himself inside.

Deputies and Pasco County Fire Rescue workers got the children out of the family home. Jenica Randazzo, 9, and La'nyla Heater, 7, were taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Jenica was in critical condition Thursday afternoon, and La'nyla was stable. The other grandchildren in the home, Chancellor Rios, 4, and Dominic Putnam, 13, were uninjured.

Deputies had been told that Rios often shot at a gun range and that a gun was missing. They didn't know if anyone was in the neighboring home with him, and hostage negotiations were failing.

They entered the home and deployed gas and what they call "flash-bang devices." A BearCat armored vehicle took out part of the home's wall. Eventually, Rios emerged, holding his hand in his pocket. Trained deputies recognized that he might want them to shoot and kill him. They yelled at him: "Get down! Get down!"

Rios walked into the armored vehicle and collapsed, unconscious. Later, deputies would find that he bore serious self-inflicted wounds to his neck, head and torso from a drill bit and augur.

His condition is unknown.

The standoff ended without using force, Nocco said, and no officers were injured.

"We know that this is a horrific time for this family and that they need help," he said. "We're going to make sure that all the proper steps are done, that the two other children are going to be in safe hands."

Many sheriff's cars remained outside the home Thursday evening as investigators continued their work.

• • •

Earlier in the day, friends and acquaintances gathered at the police tape in the bright sun, looking toward the house where the Rios family has lived for years.

Childhood friend Josh Melching, 25, of Clearwater was still struggling to comprehend the morning's mayhem.

"That's not what Jason would've done," he said, shaking his head. "He's always had my brother's and my back. He was a caring person. He was Jason. I don't know how to explain other than that. He was Jason."

Angela Rios was a fighter, Melching said, a tough woman who used a wheelchair but made sure she was always there for the children. He said Jason Rios had that same dedication to his family.

"It's didn't matter what you needed. He was there," he said. "He loved nothing more than his family."

Melching said that if Rios had trouble with drugs, he hid it well. He had a twin brother and often spent time tinkering with his truck. And he was working on passing the GED test, a process that he told Melching would improve his life.

"He was trying. He knew that he had made mistakes, but he was trying to make up for them and do better with his life. … I wish he would have called this morning, because I would have been there."

Pasco sheriff's records show Jason Rios was arrested for trespassing on fenced property at age 21 and for grand theft of a golf cart at 15.

Tony Ali, the owner of On Point Fashions near the family's home, said the grandparents did their best for the children, stopping in occasionally to buy new shoes despite living paycheck to paycheck.

"The grandparents were trying hard to give the kids a better life than they had received," he said.

Ernesto Rios worked especially hard, Ali said, devoted to his wife, Angela, as well as the grandchildren.

He said Ernesto almost always wore that stress and worry on his face.

Staff researcher Caryn Baird and John Martin and staff writers Zack Peterson and Rich Shopes contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com.

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