Salvador Vasquez-Oliva took his first halting steps into a Sacramento courtroom Monday to face four counts of murder days after his wife, two children and a niece were found dead inside their South Land Park home.
The 56-year-old state worker, an office technician at the state’s Employment Development Department since 2012, wore the padded green vest of an inmate on mental-health watch as Sacramento defense attorney Linda Parisi stood beside him on the other side of the courtroom’s holding cell.
Vasquez-Oliva listened – his head bowed, his back to the crowded gallery – as an interpreter repeated the four murder charges that Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard Sueyoshi methodically read.
The victims were discovered Thursday by police officers called to perform a welfare check at the house in the 1100 block of 35th Avenue.
Coroner’s officials over the weekend released the names of the victims: Angelique Vasquez, 45; her daughter Mia Vasquez, 14; her son Alvin Vasquez, 11; and Angelique Vasquez’s niece, Ashley Coleman, 21.
On Monday, officials with the state Employment Development Department confirmed that Angelique Vasquez was an 11-year EDD veteran whose most recent assignment was as a personnel technician. In a statement, department officials said they were providing counseling services to Vasquez’s co-workers, calling her loss “devastating to the EDD family.”
Prosecutors alleged Vasquez-Oliva used a “deadly and dangerous weapon” to carry out the crimes sometime on Wednesday, adding special circumstances that he allegedly committed multiple murders. The murder weapon – and motive – remained a mystery Monday.
Parisi, assigned to the case after the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office declared a conflict, asked for time to review the evidence. Vasquez-Oliva will return to court April 18 for further arraignment.
Outside the courtroom, Parisi told reporters that she planned to review police reports and “evaluate the situation,” calling the deadly incident “truly tragic. It’s a very difficult situation.”
The bodies of the four family members were found Thursday morning inside their tidy ranch-style home on 35th Avenue near Gloria Drive when police checked on the residence following a concerned relative’s call to authorities.
Vasquez-Oliva was arrested later that same day in San Francisco. He is being held without bail at Sacramento County Main Jail.
Sacramento police detectives and crime-scene technicians pored over the family’s home for days following the shocking discovery, cordoning off the house with yellow crime-scene tape and barricading the street in front of it.
On Saturday, about 60 friends and neighbors, joined by Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer and Mayor Darrell Steinberg, gathered near the police barricades to mourn the four killed and to attempt to make sense of what Steinberg called “the unthinkable.”
By Sunday, detectives had wrapped up their work, and police tape was replaced by votive candles and stuffed animals left by grieving neighbors.
Children, along with their parents, have been struggling to understand what happened to their classmates – a pair who loved sports, were polite, well-liked and missed.
Principals Enrique Flores of Sam Brannan Middle School and Samantha Holmes of John Cabrillo Elementary School said crisis teams from the Sacramento City Unified School District were at their campuses Monday to ensure that any student in need of emotional support would have a place to turn. The schools are a short walk from the 35th Avenue home where Mia and Alvin lived.
It was the second day for counselors at Brannan, where word had spread Friday that Mia had been killed. The teen was in the eighth grade at Brannan, where she was a goalkeeper on the school’s soccer team. Alvin had attended Cabrillo since third grade, “your typical, average fifth-grade boy” who loved to play basketball, Holmes said.
“He was very polite, and his parents were always very supportive,” Holmes said. District officials said Alvin had recently transferred to nearby Sutterville Elementary School, where grief counselors were also on hand Monday.
Both Flores and Holmes said the experience has been difficult for the classmates of Mia and Alvin. A school psychologist spoke to Alvin’s classmates this morning, Holmes said.
“Many go into the wellness center to talk to the mental health professionals,” Flores said. “They just want assurances that you’re there and that we’re moving forward. For the most part, they just look at you and give you a smile that they’re going to be OK.”