OLDSMAR — The crime scene was one of the grisliest Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri could remember: a 48-year-old woman found decapitated at her home, her son accused of swinging the ax.
Gualtieri said Christian Gomez, 23, was upset because his mother wanted him to move some boxes into the attic of their house. So on New Year's Eve, he killed Maria Suarez Cassagne in the garage, repeatedly hitting her with an ax until he severed her head, Gualtieri said.
"I don't think it gets much worse than that," Gualtieri said Thursday. "This whole circumstance is probably one of the worst, certainly, that we've ever seen, with a decapitation and the head stuck in a garbage can. It's terrible."
Gomez was taken to the Pinellas County Jail and held without bail on a charge of first-degree murder.
Deputies had not been called to the home recently, but Gualtieri said law enforcement officials have had contact with Gomez about 30 times, including a handful of arrests. The charges were minor, such as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in 2009, and loitering and prowling in March 2014, which was not prosecuted.
Gomez has a history of mental problems, including a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the sheriff said. In 2013, he was held for a mandatory mental evaluation under the law known as the Baker Act. In that case, Gomez started waving a skateboard at a passer-by and making incoherent comments, Gualtieri said.
Gomez was taking medication, indicating that he had received some mental health care.
Gualtieri said be believes this case and others may point to gaps in the state's mental health system. He is currently looking into how many people have frequent arrests as well as frequent Baker Acts, to see if there is some better way to give them treatment and reduce crimes.
The victim lived with three others in the house at 1924 Sheffield Court: Gomez; an older son named Mario, 27; and a 16-year-old daughter. Gomez sometimes felt jealous of his older brother, believing his mother gave him more attention, Gualtieri said.
Gomez spent two days planning the killing, Gualtieri said.
After cutting off his mother's head, he carried it out of the garage and put it in a trash can outside the house, Gualtieri said. Next, he dragged her body outside but was unable to hoist it into the trash can.
Gomez then left the house on a bicycle.
At the time, the teenage daughter was out of the house working at a pizza restaurant, but older brother Mario Gomez was home in his room. He heard some kind of thumping — not realizing it was the swinging ax — and came out to see what was wrong. He discovered his mother's body.
Pinellas deputies were alerted at 7:24 p.m. Wednesday and eventually found Christian Gomez in a nearby neighborhood. They noted the blood on his socks. He admitted to the killing, Gualtieri said, and acknowledged knowing it was wrong and against the law.
That conversation could be closely scrutinized in future court proceedings, particularly if Gomez's defense attorneys argue he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
With crime scene tape around the cul-de-sac, and blood stains clearly visible on the blue concrete driveway, it all made for a somber New Year's Day in the neighborhood off Curlew Road.
Neighbor John Burke mowed Cassagne's lawn and would often see her walk her dog in the morning. He's glad his wife and children were not home.
"I'm going to try to keep it away from my kids," he said.
Contact Curtis Krueger at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-8232. Follow @ckruegertimes.