Five days after Esbeidi Sanchez was baptized, she reached a breaking point no one saw coming.
Not her husband, who worked long days in the cotton fields of the Florida Panhandle to put food on the table. Not her pastor, who’d prayed with her and encouraged her to accept Jesus Christ as her personal savior. And not the teachers at Malone School, who knew her as an involved and loving mom to her two young sons.
On Friday, Oct. 6, after her little boys got off the school bus and walked into their house, she shot them both in the head. Then she turned the gun on herself.
Her husband, Thomas Sanchez, came home to a horror. His wife and their oldest son, Ronaldinio “Ronny” Ramirez-Sanchez, 7, were dead. Their youngest son, Gustavo “Angel” Ramirez-Sanchez, 5, was badly injured but still breathing. Sanchez made a frantic call to 911. The boy was life-flighted to nearby Tallahassee. But he didn’t make it, dying the next day in the hospital.
Their deaths sent shock waves through Bascom, a tiny farming community just south of the Alabama-Florida line where dirt roads crisscross wide fields of cotton, cell-phone signals are faint and violent crime is something that happens somewhere else.
“Everybody’s flabbergasted,” said Brother John Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Malone. “She was a very beautiful lady and seemed like she had a real sweet personality. She didn’t indicate that anything was wrong whatsoever.”
Sanchez left a note at the scene referencing her own suicide and personal hardships she’d faced in her life. But it didn’t explain why she killed her own children, said Capt. Scott Edwards of the Jackson County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office.
“The note that she left does indicate that this is what she wanted to do,” he said. “Basically it was describing some incidents that occurred in her past that probably led up to this. It mentions the kids, but it doesn’t mention why she would do that to the kids. It’s probably one of the things we’ll never know.”
Family friends say Thomas Sanchez is coping the best he can. He’s been back to the tin-roofed house off Robinson Road where his family lived happily for years, leaving behind three sets of balloons and flowers on the carport in memory of his loved ones.
But word has spread through Bascom that he’ll never live in the house again. Family friends are helping him find a new place to reside.
“He’s accepted it,” one friend said. “But just like everybody else, he doesn’t understand it.”
‘It’s damn sure hard to believe’
Esbeidi Sanchez, 25, whose first name is pronounced “Es-Betty,” had no criminal record. Her immediate family had no history with Florida’s child welfare system.
But court records suggest there were problems at home when Esbeidi was growing up. Her mother was granted a protection order against her father on March 7, 2005. He was charged the next day with sexual battery, but the charge was dismissed months later.
In December 2011, before Esbeidi’s second son was born, she filed a domestic violence injunction against her father. In the petition, she wrote she felt she was in danger because her father “likes violence” and had a gun. She checked a box on the form saying her father had committed or threatened to commit domestic violence and that he’d threatened to kidnap or harm her child.
“He threatened my boyfriend and maybe me and my son,” she wrote.
Her request for an injunction, however, was denied, according to court records.
Some of her friends and neighbors knew she’d had troubles with her father. But no one thought she was capable of violence herself.
Fritz Taylor, 78, a lifelong resident of Bascom, said he’d often see Esbeidi driving her children to school in the morning. The family used to come pick up pecans that had fallen in his yard.
“They were super nice,” he said. “All of them. It’s damn sure hard to believe. You’ve heard about (murder-suicides) way yonder or somewhere. You never heard about it here.”
Pat and Veneeda Jordan, whose sons employ Thomas Sanchez at their family-owned 3 J Farms, described him as a good man and hard worker and his wife as a lovely woman.
“She was just as sweet a lady as you would ever find,” he said. “She had two little boys and they were just as sweet as they could be. Every time they’d see me, they’d come hug me. I didn’t dream something like that was going to happen.”
Esbeidi’s youngest son had started kindergarten at Malone School, her oldest first grade. “Angel” enjoyed reading to his teacher, while Ronny liked math. Esbeidi, who attended the school as a girl, visited often, attending various events and having lunch with her boys.
“Mama was very involved in the school,” said Bryant Hardy, assistant principal. “We loved their whole family. Two very sweet kids, always smiling. Every time I walked by them, they always had a hand stuck up in the air to give me high five. Everything was good to them. They were just good kids.”
Over the past few months, she’d faithfully attended Sunday service and Wednesday night youth programs at First Baptist Church, always with her children in tow. On the Sunday before her baptism, she decided to join the church, Brother Smith said. A day or two later, Smith and Pat Jordan, a member of the church, visited her at her home.
“I talked with her about praying and receiving Jesus Christ as her personal savior,” Smith recalled. “And I led her in a prayer. And she just so willingly went through it. And of course, everything seemed to be doing well.”
The following Sunday, on Oct. 1, she came forward in the sanctuary, where Smith presented her to the church. He took her straight to the baptistry, said a few words and dunked her head in the water. Her husband and children watched proudly, he said.
“When you go down in the water, it’s like Jesus being buried in the tomb,” Smith said. “And when you come out of the water, you’re resurrected to a new life. And from that point on, you’re walking with Jesus.”
Veneeda Jordan said Esbeidi was eager to get baptized and dressed up for the occasion.
“She was beautiful,” she said. “She had on a royal blue dress, full length. And it just made her glow.”
Smith has no explanation for the deaths. He said no one really knows the heart of another.
“But what I do know is God knows,” Smith said. “And God is able to be the comfort that’s needed. He may not stop these things. He may allow these things to happen. But I believe in all my heart she’s in heaven — she and those two precious children.”