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Mother, 2 children murdered after landlord didn't change locks, lawsuit says

Ruth Esther Reyes de Severino "begged" the Penns Grove Gardens apartment complex in New Jersey to change her locks after she won a restraining order against her husband.

A New Jersey woman "begged" her apartment complex to change the locks on her door after she was granted a restraining order against her husband. The complex failed to fulfill her request, and she and two children were fatally stabbed in their home, a lawsuit filed on the family's behalf claims.

The woman, Ruth Esther Reyes de Severino, and her children, Eurianny, 5, and Eury, 2, were killed on Feb. 5, 2020. Police found the bodies in the family's Penns Grove Gardens apartment after they discovered the remains of Reyes de Severino's husband, Eugenio Severino, in a nearby park, according to the lawsuit, which was obtained by NBC News.

The Penns Grove Gardens apartment complex in Penns Grove, N.J.
The Penns Grove Gardens apartment complex in Penns Grove, N.J.Google maps

The lawsuit claims that Eugenio Severino died by suicide after he murdered his family. Penns Grove police did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed last month in Salem County Superior Court, alleges wrongful death, negligence, breach of contract and negligent hiring. It lists the defendants as Penns Grove Gardens, its operator, Housing Management Resources, and Roger J. Gendron, identified in the suit as "managing member" of Penns Grove Apartments and Penns Grove Gardens.

The apartment complex and its operator did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday. Gendron could not be reached at phone numbers listed for him. first reported the suit.

In January 2020, just weeks before the slayings, Reyes de Severino was granted a restraining order against her husband, ousting him from their apartment. The suit alleges that Eugenio Severino had threatened to kill his wife numerous times.

Reyes de Severino informed the apartment complex about the restraining order and asked for her locks to be changed because her husband still had a set of keys.

"Ruth Reyes de Severino asked, nay, begged, Defendant Landlord Penns Grove Apartments LLC ... to change the locks on the door to her apartment such that her husband could not gain entry," the lawsuit says.

"Despite Tenant’s fear for her own safety and security, as well as the safety and security of her two small children ... Defendant Landlord denied Tenant’s request to change the locks," it says.

On the day of the murders, Eugenio Severino used his keys to enter the apartment and stabbed his wife and children, the lawsuit alleges.

Reyes de Severino had made at least five in-person requests for the locks of her apartment to be changed, said Samuel D. Jackson, a lawyer who is representing her estate. She had also told the complex that her husband posed a danger to her and her children, he said.

"Women and their children should not have to fear for their lives —or lose them — because their landlords and the parties they contract with fail to keep those women and children safe," Jackson said in a statement Tuesday.

The suit also claims that the apartment complex failed to follow a Penns Grove ordinance that was created in response to the shooting death of Tayshon Hayward at the same property in 2019.

The ordinance said all apartment complexes in the municipality had to install exterior security cameras and lighting to improve safety.

"The defendants here didn’t bother to follow a law that was passed to address their own bad behavior after someone else lost their life in similar circumstances at their property less than a year before," Jackson said.

"The predictable result was an even worse tragedy," he said. "We hope this lawsuit sends shockwaves through the New Jersey landlord community and makes landlords realize the health and safety of their tenants should trump all other considerations — especially profits."

Reyes de Severino's estate seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as other fees.