Murder-suicide is Meridian’s third in six months
MERIDIAN — Three Meridian residents died Sunday in the city’s third murder-suicide since July.
A 39-year-old man with two handguns forced his way into his ex-wife’s home and shot her and her husband multiple times, according to Meridian Police. He held hostage two girls, including one of his own daughters, during an hourslong standoff with police. After negotiating with police and releasing the girls, the shooter, Edward Lynn Epps Jr., killed himself.
Heidi DeLeon, 40, and her husband, Jose Pablo Diaz DeLeon, 47, were killed in the attack.
Epps and Heidi DeLeon had filed for divorce in 2011, according to online court records. They had an upcoming court date on Jan. 29 regarding child support. Their daughters, ages 10 and 13, were home during the shooting, as was Jose DeLeon’s 11-year-old daughter, according to Meridian Police.
There was nothing alarming on Epps’ criminal record in Idaho, which lists only traffic offenses.
Police responded about 3 p.m. Sunday to a call about shots fired in the 4900 block of West Charles Street in Meridian. During the shooting, the 13-year-old girl fled and ran to a neighbor’s house.
Though still early in the investigation, police believe Epps forced his way in to the DeLeons’ house with a .40 caliber and a .22 caliber handgun, firing at Jose and Heidi DeLeon, according to Meridian police. Police believe Jose DeLeon confronted Epps while Heidi DeLeon ran to a back bedroom. Jose DeLeon was shot multiple times and died in the hallway. Epps shot at Heidi DeLeon while she fled, according to police, and then forced his way into the back bedroom where he shot her multiple times.
When officers arrived, Epps was inside the house holding hostage the 10- and 11-year-old girls. Idaho State Police, Ada County Sheriff’s deputies and Boise police also responded.
Police negotiated with Epps, and he released the 11-year-old girl. After further negotiations, he also released his 10-year-old daughter.
After releasing the girls, Epps fatally shot himself in the head, according to police and the Ada County Coroner’s Office.
The police presence had lessened by Monday afternoon, although the DeLeon house remained secured behind tangles of neon yellow police tape and the Meridian Police Department’s enormous mobile command unit, which didn’t leave the scene until about 1:15 p.m. The neighborhood was quiet, in contrast to the scene playing out less than 24 hours before.
Kyle Bean, who lives one block behind the DeLeon house, remembered how police had ordered everyone inside. He saw officers with rifles pacing the sidewalk and one officer sporting a riot shield. Police shut down the entire neighborhood, he said, and if people needed to leave, they could only do so through the subdivision’s back route.
The standoff lasted for about three hours, Bean estimated. Toward the end he heard flash grenades and saw smoke and flashlights.
By then, Epps and the DeLeons had died. Jose DeLeon had owned the house for almost 20 years, according to the county assessor’s website.
Bean hadn’t remembered anything like that happening in the neighborhood before. Neither did other neighbors in the area, which is dotted with large houses and well-kept lawns, and where neighbors gather for a barbecue from time to time. One neighbor described the sterile silence hanging over the subdivision as making it feel “like a museum.”
Bean didn’t have any illusions about crime, though.
“It can happen anywhere, though,” he said. “What are you going to do about it?”
‘THEY HAD FALLEN IN LOVE’
Billy Bair, 73, worked with both Heidi and Jose DeLeon at Plexus Corporation in Nampa before he retired. Although the couple shared a job, he said, it didn’t get in the way of their marriage.
“It was obvious to me, at least, and to everybody else around that they were really in love,” Bair said. “It wasn’t just an office fling. They had fallen in love.”
Bair worked under Heidi DeLeon at the Plexus Corporation, clocking 12-hour days four days at a time. He remembered her as a strict boss, but also a fair one. And she had a sense of humor, too — she used to try to outdo one of their co-workers when it came to Halloween costumes, Bair remembered.
Heidi DeLeon left Plexus in the late 2000s, Bair said, so she could become a stay-at-home mom. After Plexus, Jose DeLeon went on to work at Woodgrain Millwork, a lumber company based in Fruitland, Idaho, according to his former Plexus coworker, Gina Wooddall.
Wooddall followed news of the police standoff in Meridian Sunday afternoon, she said, but she didn’t believe anyone she knew was involved until a friend reached out to her on social media late Sunday night. She learned of their deaths with shock.
“They were awesome people,” she told the Idaho Press in a phone interview Monday morning. “It’s hard to put my head around it.”
Bair’s emotions were still raw Monday.
“(These aren’t) the first friends I’ve lost to domestic violence, but it’s a hard thing to accept,” he said. “At my age, you learn to swallow the tears and move on.”
For Wooddall, the hardest part is thinking of the DeLeons’ children.
“I feel sorry for those kids,” she said.
A SERIES OF MURDER-SUICIDE CASES
Including Sunday’s shootings, 11 Treasure Valley residents have died by murder-suicide in the past year. Meridian itself has seen two other murder-suicide cases since July.
In November, Meridian police investigated the death of a 69-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a 71-year-old man outside a home. The man shot himself after killing the woman, according to the Meridian Police Department.
That was less than six months after another shooting incident police deemed a murder suicide in the 2200 block of Meridian’s Horse Creek Road in July. During that incident, police believe, Daniel “Sky” Cobb, 46, shot and killed his girlfriend, Crystal Wilson, 36, before he killed himself.
Those incidents bear resemblance to other shootings in Canyon County. In May, for instance, Ian S. Stone, 37, shot and killed Jacyln Zabel, 29, in Caldwell before he also shot and killed himself, according to the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office.
Then in September, a Nampa couple, Philip Butler, 29, and Kaylynn Butler, 27, were found dead in their home in what police ruled a murder-suicide. Both died of gunshot wounds.
A PROBLEM STATEWIDE
Idaho has a higher-than-average rate of intimate partner murder-suicides, which make up 65 percent of all murder-suicides nationally, according to Kelly Miller, executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
The state experienced 17 intimate partner murder-suicide-related deaths from January to November of 2018 alone, Miller said. That’s compared to 17 in 2017, 10 in 2016 and six in 2015.
“Any is one too many,” she said.
Both Miller and Bea Black, executive director of the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, said they couldn’t comment on specific reasons Meridian had seen so many cases in a matter of months. Black said anytime there is a population increase in an area, things like murder-suicide rate are bound to increase.
Meridian residents with concerns about sexual and domestic violence can find help through organizations such as the Women’s and Children’s Alliance in Boise or Advocates Against Family Violence in Caldwell.
However, unlike Boise, Nampa and Caldwell, Meridian doesn’t have its own resource center specific to this issue.
Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd said no related services have expressed interest in bringing a facility to Meridian, but she was “always open to the conversation.”
When new residents sign up for utility billing, the city of Meridian sends them a postcard with information about resources in the community, including services like Women’s and Children’s Alliance or Advocates Against Family Violence, she said.
Black said separation is the most dangerous time for an individual in an abusive relationship. She encouraged people in that situation to reach out to a local organization for help or safety strategies.
Another important factor is access to a gun by the abuser, which increases the chances of homicide by 500 percent, she said.
According to a recent study by the Violence Policy Center, around 90 percent of murder-suicides in the nation involved a gun.
Miller said every individual should be aware and reach out for help if they see any of the warning signs of increased danger or death in a relationship taking place.
“Another piece is everyone trusting their instinct,” Miller said.
She said if a person knows of abuse taking place, they need to do everything they can to support the victim.