Family breakup ends in tragic murder-suicide

Father of seven kids kills ex-wife in SUV, then shoots himself.

Published: Friday, Sep. 7, 2007 - 9:21 am | Page 2B

The small Elder Creek Road home where Sergio Bravo had hoped to raise his seven children with his wife, Maria, had fallen quiet.

Backyard family parties and carne asada dinners with neighbors ended when the Bravos' divorce became final this summer. Five of the children left to live with their mother; the other two -- the eldest of the Bravo sons -- stayed at the house with their father.

"Sergio just seemed really sad," said Rick Yates, who had befriended his neighbor of four years and on Thursday recalled better times. "Since they split up, I haven't seen much of him."

In fact, Yates said he hadn't seen anyone from the family in about a week, and when he called Sergio Bravo's cell phone a few days ago, it was disconnected.

On Thursday, Yates said he recognized Bravo's white Chevrolet sport-utility vehicle on television news: On Wednesday night, police had pulled it over on Power Inn Road. Authorities said Bravo, 40, shot his 37-year-old ex-wife to death before turning the gun on himself.

A small child was in the vehicle at the time but was unharmed. Police were not sure Thursday if the child was the couple's 4-year-old son.

"Oh my God," said Yates, who held out hope that it wasn't his friend until he was reached by a reporter. "This is devastating."

Yates, who described Sergio Bravo as amicable and outgoing, struggled to understand how his neighbor could turn to violence.

"I would have never expected this of Sergio," he said. "He was hard-working and cared for his family."

The Bravos' landlord, Lu Ann Chambers, said she was shocked by the crime.

"Sergio was a wonderful man," she said. "This is certainly out of character."

Chambers and Yates recalled that Maria Bravo had largely kept to herself.

Last year, court records show, Maria Bravo began the process to divorce her husband, a landscaper. She assumed her former name of Maria Lopez.

Their marriage was officially over in late June, and arrangements had been made earlier for joint custody of the Bravo children, ages 4 to 18.

But Lopez had tried to gain sole custody in May, when she filed a temporary restraining order against Bravo. She said that Bravo had broken into her apartment and destroyed all of her china, furniture and pictures.

"I'm very afraid of him," she wrote.

Bravo was ordered to stay 100 yards away from his former wife, court records show. But the father was allowed to continue to share joint custody of the Bravo children.

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Read more articles by Crystal Carreon

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