‘It’s all gone now’: After deaths of 4 in West Brookfield, questions linger
WEST BROOKFIELD — Moses Bermudez kept calling his wife from California, he said, but she wasn’t picking up. Maybe, he told his family, she had let one of their children — 7-year-old Madison, 5-year-old James, or 2-year-old Michael — play with her phone. Maybe she had just misplaced it.
But as the hours passed Thursday, his fears grew, he told his sister, Rachaul Bermudez. He called his father and asked him to go check their home on Old Warren Road in this small Central Massachusetts town, she said.
When his father walked inside, he was paralyzed by a horrifying scene: four bodies upstairs. In a panic, he called his wife.
“They don’t look fine!” he told his wife, according to Rachaul Bermudez, who spoke to the Globe by phone Friday. She told him to take their pulse, but he already knew. “I can see it, I can see it! They’re not fine!”
He called 911, Bermudez said. When police arrived, they found Sara Bermudez and her three children dead in a bedroom, their bodies showing signs of burns. Several fires had been set in the home, but they had burned themselves out, an official said.
At a news conference Friday, Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said that investigators were painstakingly picking through a complex crime scene and had made no arrests.
“We have a mother and three dead children,” Early said. “That makes it awfully complicated.”
He declined to say much about what investigators had learned. He said autopsies were underway.
Early asked the public to notify State Police if they had seen anything along Old Warren Road between Wednesday and Friday.
“No matter how small or insignificant you think your information may be, if you saw someone, if you saw a vehicle on that road, we’d like to talk to you,” he said.
West Brookfield Police Chief C. Thomas O’Donnell said he had spoken with the families of schoolchildren and that many are anxious. He asked them to stay vigilant.
“We don’t want people to be overly upset, but we do want them to be careful,” he said.
Authorities did not name the victims, but Rachaul Bermudez identified them as Sara Bermudez, 38, and the couple’s three children, Madison, James, and Michael. Property records show the couple bought the house at 10 Old Warren Road in 2014, and their names also appear on their youngest child’s birth certificate.
On Friday morning, a “distraught family member” rushed toward the house, which was blocked off as a crime scene, and was taken into custody. The relative was later released, Early said.
Rachaul Bermudez said her family is shocked and confused by the deaths and did not know what had happened. Her brother works as an offshoreman in California and takes frequent trips out of state for work, she said. As soon as he got the news, she said, he flew home and went to the police station.
“My brother was really enjoying being a father,” she said as she wept. “He was like a mentor to kids. When he had his own — I could see it. These little scenes of haircuts. The fishing. He had a plan. It’s all gone now.”
Moses Bermudez grew up just a few miles away in Warren and moved to California after high school, his sister said.
He met his wife, Sara, and the two decided to have children. But her brother found himself missing his family in Massachusetts, so about four years ago, they bought a gray Cape Cod-style house with a gabled roof and four bedrooms, and moved back.
“Instead of the kids living in downtown Los Angeles and concrete, he wanted them to go on a boat, and with a fishing pole,” she said. “He had a big house. He wanted to share it with everybody.”
Rachaul Bermudez said the family had seemed to be doing well: Moses and Sara had opened a bouncy house business together, MJM Jumpers, and they rented equipment for parties. Sara Bermudez’s Facebook page shows that they also frequently donated equipment.
“MJM Jumpers would like to thank Warren Fire department for letting us donate a bounce house for there successful event today,” she wrote in October, above a picture of a red and yellow castle.
They had slowly added more equipment: cotton candy machines and with sugar floss and sticks and snow cone machines. Business was good, Rachaul Bermudez said.
Two of the couple’s children were students at West Brookfield Elementary School, said Brett Kustigian, superintendent of the Quaboag Regional School District. On Friday, Kustigian said the day was “all about supporting students, coming together [as] a community, grieving, displaying emotion, and wondering how could something like this happen.”
“Unfortunately, there are no answers to many of our questions, but I am encouraged by the strength and resiliency of our students, staff, and the entire school community,” he said in a statement.
On Friday, Old Warren Road was blocked off by police, and several fire investigation vehicles were set up around the home’s long driveway.
Neighbors said they had often seen the kids playing in front of the home. One man said that the daughter always stopped to pet his small, fluffy dog when he walked by.
“She’s just a sweetie. It’s just terrible,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “It’s not how things are supposed to go.”