By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
COVINGTON – A reward of $40,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of two men allegedly involved in a Covington break-in has generated numerous leads, St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. George Bonnet said this week.
Sheriff Jack Strain held a press conference announcing the burglary in the River Oaks subdivision of Covington, which occurred on a Saturday morning when two men broke into the home of a family that moved to St. Tammany Parish a year ago from Honduras.
Mario Zelaya, an orthopedic surgeon, told the room full of press representatives that his family was thrilled to be living here, after coming from a country where it was so dangerous to go out that they lived inside a home that was more like a compound.
Zelaya told the media that his three sons were excited to be living in an area where they could stand on a street corner and wave to cars going by, and see people occasionally wave back.
“I was watching a baseball game and my sons called me outside, where they wanted to show me that when they wave to people driving by, they smile and wave back,” he said at the press conference, fighting back tears. “They told me, ‘dad, it’s safe here.’ But now they don’t feel so safe anymore.”
Strain explained that on a Saturday morning, Zelaya’s 9-year-old son, his wife and three adults were in their River Oaks home on Winterberry Court when two masked men broke into the home, demanding money.
The incident has left Zelaya’s son and wife so traumatized that he moved them back to Honduras for now, until the suspects can be arrested. To aid in the investigation, Zelaya and friends from Honduras have joined with Crimestoppers to offer a $40,000 reward.
By this week, Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Bonnett said they have gotten many leads thanks to the potential reward.
“We do not believe this was a random crime,” Strain said. “These men had prior knowledge of what might have been in the home.”
The men, who spoke English and never uncovered their faces, left the home with a small amount of cash, multiple firearms and some jewelry, including one particular gold medallion with the Virgin Mary on it. The Sheriff’s Office has released a picture of the medallion, hoping area pawn shop owners will be on the lookout for it, or any other recognizable items.
The suspects also stole the car of Susana “Susie” Zelaya—a late model Mercedes Benz—that was later recovered in Pearl River, where it had been abandoned.
“These men were cowards to tie up a 9-year-old,” Zelaya said. “My son is waking up with nightmares, and my wife wakes up every morning trembling. I thank God and the Virgin Mary that they are OK, but these men messed up our hearts and our minds and they don’t deserve to be on the streets.”
The suspects are adult males, one of them approximately 6 feet tall and the other one approximately 5 feet, 7 inches tall.
Zelaya said his wife urged him to go public with their story since “we don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Crimestoppers President & CEO Darlene Cusanza was on hand at the press conference and said the $40,000 reward was one of the largest their organization has ever offered in this region.
“We moved here since my country is one of the most violent in the world,” Zelaya added. “The United States is a safe place, and even though this happened to us, we know it is still a safe place. We hope someone will help us catch these men since we still believe this parish will be safe for us again.”
Zelaya was emotional throughout the press conference while talking about the crime, explaining how the break-in traumatized his wife and son.
“Every time I hear my wife tell the story, I wish I could do more,” he said, his voice cracking again. “And my son—he was the joy of the class. He didn’t deserve this. Now we can’t talk loud in the house or he gets nervous. He got scared the other day just from his brother kicking the soccer ball against the wall.”
Strain is urging the public to be on the lookout for any unusual pieces of jewelry that may surface.
“One piece of the jewelry is very unique and any pawn broker or gold broker would immediately note that it’s not something they would frequently see,” Strain said. “We are thankful the family is OK. The strength of this family and their faith in the Lord got them through this. Now we want to catch the two men who were involved in this.”
Anyone with information on the case should call 911 or call Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111.