TAMPA, Fla. – A Florida woman murdered along with her five children endured regular abuse from her husband but seemed overwhelmed by trying to raise the kids herself and wanted him around as a father figure, Department of Children and Families records show.
Police in Haiti on Monday detained Mesac Damas, wanted for questioning in the killings of his wife, Guerline Damas, and the couple's three boys and two girls in their Naples, Fla., apartment. A relative said detectives told them their throats had been slit.
Collier County Sheriff's deputies have called Mesac Damas a person of interest in the slayings. The 33-year-old boarded a flight to Haiti from Miami International Airport on Friday, a day before police found the bodies.
Just days earlier, a Department of Children and Families caseworker assigned to the family had made an unannounced visit to the apartment and noted in a report that the children, ages 11 months to 9 years, seemed healthy and safe.
Mesac Damas was home and dinner was cooked. The toddler was wearing a sundress and playing with her doll while the older daughter, dressed in pink, asked the caseworker if she had brought her a pink book bag, because she was going to school next year. The boys were in T-shirts and shorts and the worker didn't see any bruises or marks.
Mesac Damas was due to finish a court-ordered battery intervention course in November.
"There is no safety concern," the file reads. "Children are doing fine."
But relatives of Guerline Damas, 32, said her husband was a "loose cannon" who would take away his wife's cell phone and be rude to her family.
"You'd never know what he'd do," said her younger brother, Mackindy Dieu, 23, who lived with the couple several years ago.
Dieu said his sister wasn't open about the details of her personal life and her family didn't know she was being abused until January, when Mesac Damas was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery after he hit his wife as she held their baby daughter in her arms.
According to DCF records, he choked her and ripped her shirt off.
"As this is occurring, the child slipped out of the mother's hand and fell to the floor," the report states.
It was one of a handful of times that sheriff's deputies had been called about domestic disputes between the couple. But this one was different: Mesac Damas was taken into custody and a restraining order filed.
The other children had been outside playing and were terrified by what had happened, a caseworker noted. In interviews, two of the older boys described seeing their parents fight regularly. The oldest, 9-year-old Michzach, told the caseworker that he would try to take all the children in a bedroom when the abuse happened.
"If he tries to call 911, dad hits him on the hand or in the head," the file noted.
When it was especially bad, Guerline Damas would sleep in her car. She hadn't had an easy life — she immigrated to Florida from Haiti as a teenager after her father was murdered in their home. She went to high school and later found work in a Publix supermarket.
"What are you doing with this guy?" Dieu said the family told her when they learned about the abuse. "You need to leave."
The couple separated — for two months. Guerline Damas began counseling at a shelter for abused women. A caseworker noted she seemed overwhelmed at the thought of raising five children by herself. She started pushing for the restraining order to be lifted.
"She believes that a father should be with his children and she has faith in him, that he will not repeat domestic violence against his wife," records from a visit in late March state.
Mesac Damas pleaded no contest to the battery charge and was given 12 months probation and ordered to take parenting classes and enroll in a battery intervention program. Around April, he moved back in.
The family seemed to make progress. Mesac Damas said he was learning to control his anger and talk with the children more. The children said they had missed their father.
The caseworker described observing a "loving relationship" between the father and children.
"This clinician believes that this family will be a solid family unit once again," the file states.
Mesac Damas was seen Monday wearing a blue suit over a white T-shirt, standing in the back room of a police station near the Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti with his hands restrained behind his back by plastic ties. Two officers confirmed it was Damas. They spoke on condition of anonymity because his capture had not been publicly announced. He was captured by police outside a hotel in Port-au-Prince, the Caribbean nation's capital, according to several officers.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office said it was working with the FBI to confirm Damas' identity and arrange investigators to travel to Haiti and interview him.