Pasco sheriff: Girl, 9, dies a day after attack by mentally ill uncle
By Claire McNeill and Tony Marrero
NEW PORT RICHEY — A day and a half after horrific violence rocked the lives of a local family inside their home, friends and family gathered outside the house with flickering candles in plastic cups to remember the lives of a grandmother and a spirited young girl.
Jenica Randazzo, a 9-year-old girl who loved to sing, died early Friday, joining her grandmother Angela Rios, 55, who died in an attack at the home Thursday. Authorities have arrested Jenica's uncle, Jason Rios, who is also Rios' son and lived in the home, and charged him in the deaths.
Jenica "was so happy and so bright, shockingly, considering what she went through," said Ashley Rhodes-Courter, who said she had once been Jenica's foster mother. "She had an amazing spirit, and she always tried to see the best in people, even those who hurt her."
Authorities say Jason Rios, 24, on Thursday killed his mother and attacked two nieces, Jenica and her sister La'nyla Heater, 7, with a blunt-force weapon before barricading himself in a neighboring home. He was taken into custody after an hourslong standoff with Pasco County authorities, collapsing with serious self-inflicted wounds created with a drill bit and augur. He faces two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. He has been hospitalized.
La'nyla was in stable condition Friday at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.
It was still unclear Friday what sparked the violence that friends and family say shattered Angela and husband Ernesto "Eddie" Rios' efforts to provide for their four grandchildren and keep them out of foster care. Their daughter Jessica, the children's mother, was released a year ago after a 17-month stint in prison for burglary and did not live at the home.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said Jason Rios is a paranoid schizophrenic with a minor criminal history who may have been using drugs.
The Florida Department of Children and Families referred questions to foster agency Eckerd Community Alternatives. It was reviewing files Friday and had not found information to indicate the children were at risk, said Eckerd spokeswoman Terri Durdaller.
Jason Rios lived in the modest single-story home with his parents and the four children. Nocco has said when Ernesto, 55, awoke Thursday, he found his son pacing throughout the house. Ernesto woke the grandchildren to get them ready for school, then got into the shower. He heard screams, ran toward his granddaughters' rooms and found his son brandishing a weapon, which authorities have not identified. Ernesto grabbed the weapon and dragged his son outside. A bystander called 911.
Nocco said Jason tried to get back in the home, charged at deputies and fled to a neighboring house, hiding inside. Eventually, he emerged, walked into the sheriff's armored vehicle and collapsed, unconscious. The vehicle had been used to remove part of a wall.
Deputies found the body of Angela Rios inside her home. She was a double amputee who used a wheelchair. The two grandsons, Chancellor Rios, 4, and Dominic Putnam, 13, were uninjured and are now in protective custody.
Jessica Rios, 32, joined the evening vigil outside the home Friday night. She declined to comment. So did Ernesto Rios.
"Mom, take good care of her," Jessica said, looking skyward and sobbing in front of a makeshift memorial lit by dozens of candles. Ernesto clasped her hand as his eyes filled with tears.
A young cousin at the vigil, Brianna Rios, said, "We just need to be here together to grieve. (Jenica) was the life of the party, always."
Angela and Ernesto "love all their children and grandchildren," family friend Sara Seymour said.
Seymour said Jessica had hoped to regain custody. "She's turned her life around 100 percent and was ready to focus on her children," she said. "She was doing everything the courts wanted her to do."
Earlier in the day at the girls' school, Mittye P. Locke Elementary in New Port Richey, a crisis team saw about 20 students, Pasco schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.
La'nyla had enrolled this year, Cobbe said, a social first-grader whom teachers described as a spitfire. Jenica, in fourth grade, was her sister's quieter counterpart, a sweetheart with a pleasant demeanor. She loved singing, entertaining and playing tag.