Family of slain Okeechobee woman focusing on the children

“She was fulfilling what she wanted to do, and being a mom.”

Leah Suarez said all her daughter-in-law, Amanda Gayle Suarez, wanted to do in life was get her high school diploma and have children.

Amanda Suarez on her wedding day.

When Christopher William Shows allegedly murdered Amanda on Dec. 7 sometime between noon and 12:30 p.m., he snuffed out all of the young mother’s dreams.

“She was a good mom and never had any ill will toward anyone. She never had a driver’s license. She was perfectly content being home and being a mom,” said Leah.

Now Leah, and her husband Joe, are trying to take care of their son, Mathew, along with his four children who are now without a mother.

“Our son is just filled with rage over this — we all are. We just can’t imagine this here, and to our family. It’s just unimaginable,” said Leah. “She was as sweet as the day is long. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

“It’s just breaking my heart to have to go through this for all the kids — to see the destruction this one selfish act caused,” he added.

Mathew, 29, and Amanda, 25, were married just a little over 4 years and they had four children: Chandler, 11; Charlie, 9; Hayden, 4; and, E.J., 2.  When Amanda married their dad, she happily became “Mom” to the two older boys.

Amanda did not have an outside job. She chose to stay home and take care of the children while Mathew, a contractor for Century Link, went to work early and didn’t get home until late.

As Leah talked about the unthinkable tragedy, the emotion begins to take over when she mentions what Charlie and E.J. went through. While all four of the children are having to deal with devastation few people ever know, those two have the most with which to deal.

As Shows was attacking Amanda in the N.W. Third Street home where she lived with her family, E.J. was in one of the bedrooms.

“All the baby will say now is he’s scared. We know he saw. And what he didn’t directly see, he heard,” Leah said.

But even as horrendous as that is, it’s Charlie who will likely have the hardest time coping. He actually walked in the house after school and saw Amanda lying on that kitchen floor in a puddle of her own blood.

Leah explained that Amanda was actually found by her sister who, after finding the body, grabbed up E.J. and ran on foot to a nearby convenience store to call for help. While she was gone, Charlie’s school bus rolled up and let the 9-year-old out. Unsuspecting, he opened the door and walked into the home just like he has every other day of the school year.

But, this wasn’t like any other day.

“Charlie got off the school bus and went into the home, then he ran out screaming,” recalled his grandmother.

She doesn’t know exactly how he did it, but Charlie called his grandfather’s cell phone. Leah said he was screaming and crying.

A few minutes later, a cousin drove up after picking up Hayden at her school and found Charlie just walking around in the yard.

“Thank the Lord someone had the forethought to call the other school and get Chandler off the school bus. I ran over and got him and explained to him what happened,” said Leah, now struggling with her emotions. “The kids are fairly comatose from the whole thing.”

Fortunately, she continued, some friends helped out recently and took the two older children to Universal Studios in Orlando.

Leah said the children are seeing a therapist regularly, but their son has yet to reach out for help.

“Right now he’s just angry, angry, angry,” she said.

But as the family tries to sort through all of their emotions there’s still a major hurdle staring them all in the face — Christmas.

“It’s going to be a struggle, in terms of getting through the day,” Leah noted. “I’m off the next two weeks, so I can control the environment and put them in a safe place.”

Through it all, she said, there has been a ray of shining light — friends.

“We’ve just been overwhelmed with offers of help. The funeral is almost paid off — we owe just a little over $2,000. Now, we have to figure out if we’re going to purchase a home nearby or add on to our current home. We’re hanging from the rafters,” said the fourth-grade teacher with nine people now living in a five-bedroom home. “The kids lost their mom and house the same day.”

Mathew and Amanda were renting their home.

First, said Leah, their home was damaged in a hurricane. Then, two years ago, she nearly died having back surgery. And, she’s had to have four more surgeries since then. Now she and her husband are trying to take care of a houseful of people and, Mathew’s two pet snakes.

When asked what kind of snakes they were, she replied she didn’t know. But, she was quite adamant when she said they weren’t staying in the house. She said they are keeping the reptiles on the porch.

With all that’s happened, Leah has gone back to teaching fourth grade in a local elementary school while Joe works in the probation division of the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach.

“We just don’t have the means we would normally have,” offered Leah.

Because of that if people want to donate, the family asks that those donations be monetary. Those donations can be left at Elite Office Services, 1210 S.W. Second Ave. They are located directly behind the Dairy Queen restaurant. The family has also set up a Go Fund Me account to help (www.gofundme.com/suarez-family-support).

As Leah, Joe, Mathew and the kids all try to deal with this sudden upheaval in their lives it only serves to remind them of what has happened. And, what Shows has done to the entire family.
“I’ve been trying to find words to describe this monster,” she said.

And they’ve all been trying to come up with one answer that continues to elude them — why?
“Why us? Why her? Why here? Why our family? These are things we just don’t understand,” said Leah. “Amanda didn’t have an enemy — everybody loved her.

“But, we’re focused on taking care of her children. We will not let this monster win!”

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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