GRAPEVINE, Texas – A 56-year-old suburban Dallas man facing marital and financial problems killed his estranged wife, two teenage children and three other family members on Christmas Day while dressed as Santa Claus before turning the gun on himself, authorities said Tuesday.
A police spokeswoman said Aziz Yazdanpanah died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and the six others were shot to death.
Police responding Sunday morning to a 911 call made without anyone on the line found the seven people inside an apartment near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. It appeared they had been opening presents around their Christmas tree just before the attack.
Yazdanpanah became the focus of detectives after his sport utility vehicle was found outside the apartment and police believe he made the silent 911 call. The slayings have shaken friends and neighbors who knew Yazdanpanah and his wife, both of whom were born in Iran, as well as their two U.S.-born children.
"The Persian community is devastated," said Mashy Modjdehi, a friend of both Yazdanpanah's wife of 24 years, Fatemah Rahmati, as well as her sister, Zohreh, who also was killed. Modjdehi called the two sisters "the nicest people in the world — angels."
In addition to Yazdanpanah, authorities said those killed were Rahmati, 55; their daughter Nona, 19; their son Ali, 14; Zohreh Rahmaty, 58; Zohreh's husband, Mohamad Hossein Zarei, 59; and their daughter, Sara Fatemeh Zarei, 22.
Grapevine police spokesman Robert Eberling said Tuesday that detectives believe Yazdanpanah's marital and financial troubles led him to kill his family.
"That's kind of what we're looking at now," Eberling said. "We have been speaking to family members and hope to find out more."
Modjdehi said Yazdanpanah's wife moved out of the couple's 3,010-square-foot home in the neighboring suburb of Colleyville in April and into the apartment complex two miles away. The two children moved with her.
Rahmati, known to family and friends as Nasrin, filed for bankruptcy in August 2010, and she told her attorney she hoped the proceedings would stave off foreclosure of the home where the family had lived for more than a decade.
She separated from Yazdanpanah in the midst of the bankruptcy and the proceedings were later dismissed because she failed to make the plan payments, said the attorney, George Barnes. He said his notes show that Rahmati told him, "Please don't talk to the husband at all."
Barnes said Yazdanpanah initially accompanied his wife to meetings related to the bankruptcy and listed his occupation as "self-employed."
According to federal court records, Yazdanpanah was placed on three years' probation in 1996 after pleading guilty to one count of subscribing to a false income tax return. He also was fined $1,000 and required to pay $30,119 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Three years later, Yazdanpanah and his wife filed jointly for bankruptcy. That case was discharged in a matter of months.
Modjdehi, who owns a beauty salon in nearby Plano, said the family's financial troubles intensified about four years ago when Yazdanpanah stopped working in the mortgage business.
Modjdehi said Yazdanpanah had long forbid Rahmati, who holds a state cosmetology license, to work. But once he became unemployed, his wife held down jobs at two spas, the friend said.
"She worked hard to keep the family together, but he wasn't willing to do anything," Modjdehi said.
After the 2010 bankruptcy was dismissed, Yazdanpanah, often referred to as "Bob," remained in the Colleyville home, currently valued on the tax rolls at $336,200, and was often seen working in his yard.
Neighbors said there were few signs of discord. Fred Ditmars, who lives across the street, said he was unaware that Yazdanpanah's wife and children had moved out. Ditmars said the entire family was around last summer for a series of garage sales, and Yazdanpanah volunteered at a high school debate tournament where his daughter was a participant.
"He was, from everything that we saw, actively engaged with his children," Ditmars said.
Yazdanpanah's daughter graduated from nearby Colleyville Hertitage High School this year. She was attending a local community college, but eventually hoped to go to school in California and become a lawyer, said a friend and high school classmate.
The friend, Yiselle Alvarenga, said Nona had hinted in August that things were becoming increasingly difficult in her life but didn't go into details. Alvarenga said she knew that Nona's father was "really strict" and did not want her to have a boyfriend, although she defied his rule and had a relationship with a student at another high school.
"Her mom was more understanding," Alvarenga said. "Her dad would take away her phone and not give it back to her."