The pain bit Jose Maldonado below the right ear, hot and searing. When the lanky, dark-haired Florida State University student snapped his eyes open, he was in the same Tallahassee motel room where he'd drifted to sleep earlier. But then, in the lead-colored hour before dawn this past December 3, he saw his father, Pedro, standing over him. The elder Maldonado — a bald man with dark eyes saucered with stress — had tightened his fingers around his son's neck.
Jose fought free from his father's grip and leapt to his feet. Pedro then began striking his son with a long camouflage crossbow. The 21-year-old bolted from the room. He sprinted back and forth, like a man on fire, along the second-story terrace of the motel. Then Jose found the stairs and fled the University Inn & Suites, a brown zigzagging building perched on a hill ringed by oaks dripping with Spanish moss.
Across a four-lane highway, he ducked into a McDonald's. In the bathroom, Jose yanked a piece of crossbow bolt from a six-millimeter wound in his head. Blood was everywhere. After washing up, Jose didn't go for help or call police. He ran back to the room. As he'd later tell investigators: "[I] was afraid [my dad] would attempt suicide back at the motel after realizing what he had done."
Over the next 24 hours, police would find the corpses of Jose's mother and his 17-year-old brother, Pedro Jr., as well as his father — the perpetrator of the ghastly murder-suicide. Monica and Pedro Jr. had been shot through the head with arrows from the crossbow. Pedro Sr. had slashed his own wrists and neck. The Maldonado tragedy was reported from CNN to the Daily News to the UK's Daily Mail. But now the case is closed and new details have emerged.
Police have concluded that a combination of financial stress and immigration issues might have pushed Pedro Maldonado to something no sane father could ever imagine. "Maldonado Sr. considered himself a failure to his family and to himself," explains Broward Sheriff's Det. John Curcio, an investigator in the case. "That's why he took his own life. He couldn't stand the shame of it."
Pedro Maldonado was a proud and reserved man. He had been successful in Ecuador before immigrating to Florida with his two sons and wife, Monica Patricia Narvaez, according to the police file. They seem to have arrived in Weston 11 years ago. Though Jose later told police his father applied for visas on a yearly basis to remain stateside, there are indications Pedro might have fudged the date. State records indicate both parents received driver's licenses in 2003. But records from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement show the family's entry date as July 2006.
The family settled in Weston, first renting a three-bedroom townhouse on Peppertree Drive. Later they moved to a similar townhouse at the Courtyards of the Grove development. Pedro ran an import/export business. Both sons attended Cypress Bay High School. The oldest, Jose, headed to FSU and became a drummer in the school's marching band, the Marching Chiefs. Younger brother Pedro Jr. was a member of the Cypress Bay marching band.
"When we checked up on the family itself, there were no issues of domestic violence," Curcio explains. "The father had been very successful as a businessman in Ecuador, but some of the business decisions he'd made in America had left him in debt."
Dimitrios Tomaras, a business partner who'd worked with Pedro Sr. for eight years, later told police the elder Maldonado was $500,000 in debt. He had begun drinking heavily about four months prior to his death. Just days before the rampage, Tomaras — who spoke with police December 3 — had lent Pedro $23,000. He expressed concern about being deported to Ecuador, Tomaras told police. Pedro said he'd rather kill himself than return and shame his family.
On December 2, Jose Maldonado — who lived with roommates in an apartment near the FSU campus — fielded several phone calls from friends back home in Weston. His brother hadn't shown up for school, they said. Was everything OK? When Jose tried to call Pedro Jr. and his mother, he got messages that the numbers had been disconnected.
His father, however, picked up his cell. The elder Maldonado explained he'd had to close the phone accounts because of the family's visa problems. Pedro also said he was heading to Tallahassee to help pay Jose's rent. The random trip struck the FSU student as "sketchy," he told police.
Pedro arrived in town around 7 p.m. and checked into a room with two beds on the second floor of the University Inn & Suites, about two miles from Jose's apartment. Jose stopped by to see his father. Pedro seemed defeated, on the verge of surrender, as he spoke about the family's financial and immigration problems. As much as the son tried to reason with his father and lift his spirits, nothing could pull Pedro from his mental hole. The father asked his son to stay the night with him. Jose took the bed by the door, and the Maldonados fell asleep facing each other.
Jose awoke the next morning to the crossbow slamming into his head and his father's fingers around his neck.
After fleeing the room for the McDonald's, Jose began thinking his father might kill himself. So he sped back to the motel and screamed at his father: "Why did you try to kill me?"
In response, Pedro just stood there, blank-faced in the doorway.
Somehow, the two then got into Pedro's black 2010 Volvo SUV and drove to get medical help. Pedro explained he'd brought along the crossbow to sell for rent money. It had accidentally fired, the father claimed. He figured the shot was fatal, so he'd tried to choke Jose to put him out of his misery.
Jose told police that he believed his father. He just wasn't willing to swallow the alternative. When they pulled up to the clinic, Pedro handed his son $400 for the medical bills, dropped him off, and drove away.
The two spoke by phone around 3 p.m. "I'm not well," Pedro told his son. "I'm sorry, but I've done something terrible. Your mother and brother are dead."
That same day, Pedro was scheduled to meet another Ecuadoran expat, a business consultant named Edison Enderica. The men had been working on the Maldonados' residency paperwork. But Pedro never made the appointment. At 4:07 p.m., Enderica's phone buzzed with a call from Pedro. In a desperate voice, he told his friend to jot down Jose's phone number.
"Look after him," Pedro said. "I've committed a barbaric act. I've killed my son and my wife. They're home."
Enderica dialed 911. BSO deputies were soon at the family's two-story townhouse at 4266 Vineyard Circle. A note from a concerned friend who hadn't heard from the family for a few days was still stuck to the front door. Officers noticed the windows were covered in condensation from the air conditioner, which was running full-blast. No one answered the door after repeated knocks.
Around 6:30 p.m., police called Jose in Tallahassee. "I've just lost my fucking family," he told the officer on the other end before relaying what had happened that morning and his father's confession. BSO SWAT entered the house ten minutes later through the unlocked garage door. Inside, they found the body of 17-year-old Pedro Jr. and 47-year-old Monica, both lying in their respective bedrooms.
Twenty minutes later, BSO rang up law enforcement in Columbia County, midway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Maldonado's cell-phone provider had last pinged the number near Lake City. Police began scouring the county for Maldonado's SUV.
The Volvo was spotted around 11 p.m. in the parking lot of a two-story motel just off I-75. The staff told police that Pedro had checked into a room on the second floor that morning. The area was evacuated. A police perimeter was set up. Negotiators tried to call Maldonado's cell and room phones. Finally, a SWAT officer crashed into the room through the front windows.
Pedro Maldonado was sprawled naked between the bathroom and the room's sink area. The entire motel room was splattered with blood and discarded clothing. Near the body lay a nearly empty bottle of Smirnoff vodka and a bloody paring knife. Police located the crossbow in the Volvo.
Jose, the only survivor, could not be contacted for this story. His cell phone has been disconnected, and he did not reply to a Facebook message. According to BSO's Curcio, the young man was considering a return to Ecuador. Throughout such a horrific situation, he was calm and mature.
"He didn't have any bad feelings toward his dad," Curcio explains. "He thought his father was acting irrationally out of love for his family, not out of hate."