PENNS GROVE, N.J. — Ruth Reyes Severino and her husband had been arguing, and about a month ago she kicked him out of the garden apartment they shared with their two young children. Eugenio Severino, 54, moved out, but called Reyes Severino, 30, and threatened to kill her.
That background was provided Thursday by the couple’s next-door neighbor, Elibeth Ortiz, 36, a day after police found the bodies of Reyes Severino and her two young children — all three had been stabbed to death — inside their home.
The husband’s body was found by police Wednesday in the woods in nearby Carneys Point Township. Severino’s death was suicide by hanging, according to the medical examiner’s preliminary report, the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office said in a news release Thursday afternoon.
Reyes Severino and the two children, whom authorities identified as Eurianny and Eury Severino, were ruled homicides by multiple stab wounds.
Penns Grove Police Chief Patrick Riley said that the couple’s daughter, Eurianny, was a 4-year-old preschooler, and that their son, Eury, was 2.
Asked whether authorities believe the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide, Riley said: “It’s an ongoing investigation. It’s undetermined at this point.”
Riley said Reyes Severino had taken out a restraining order against her husband in mid-January.
He said police were called to do a well-being check at the apartment shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday. “It’s very hard,” he said about how officers were dealing with having discovered the bodies of a mother and two young children.
The Prosecutor’s Office said no further information would be released until the medical examiner issues a formal report.
Ortiz said police told her that Severino had hanged himself with rope tied to a tree branch.
“Last month, they had issues, and she had kicked him out,” Ortiz said of the couple while holding on to her 1-year-old son. She said Reyes Severino told her that she had obtained a restraining order against her husband about three weeks ago after he called her and “threatened to kill her.”
Severino wanted to reconcile, but his wife “didn’t want it,” Ortiz said.
The couple, Ortiz said, had met in their native Dominican Republic, and moved into the apartment on Madole Place more than a year ago.
Reyes Severino worked in the La Cuchara Restaurant, which serves Dominican food at a truck stop in Carneys Point. Her husband also worked at the stop, cleaning trucks, Ortiz said.
She would bring her 2-year-old son to work with her, Ortiz said.
“She would always smile,” Ortiz said.
Friends and family arrived Thursday at the couple’s two-story redbrick garden apartment and placed stuffed teddy bears, heart-shaped balloons, and flowers outside the door. And they placed a framed photo of Reyes Severino and her two children, standing with angel wings in the background, inside a screen door.
“It’s painful,” said a cousin, who did not give his full name.
Johnny Solano, owner of La Cuchara and a cousin of Severino’s, stood outside the apartment in the rain. He said the couple married about eight years ago and moved to the United States, first to Jersey City, about four years ago.
Solano said he last saw Severino on Monday, at the truck stop.
Becoming emotional, Solano said the deaths had taken “the life and the light of the place from us. She was a unique person, full of life. She was nice to everybody. She was a beautiful lady.”
“She was the best mom,” he added.
Penns Grove Mayor LaDaena Thomas, who took office in January, was at the Penns Grove Police Department on Thursday for a meeting. In an interview, she said she spoke to Reyes Severino’s relatives at Bagwell Funeral Home in Penns Grove.
“They’re extremely devastated,” she said. “I got the chance to talk with them, console them.”
She said the family was trying to have the bodies of Reyes Severino and the two children sent to the Dominican Republic. She said she would work with the relatives to try to memorialize the mother and children in Penns Grove.
“This town is pretty close,” the mayor said. “Nothing like this has ever happened here that I know of, and I grew up here. The thought of a mother and her two children is just unfathomable. The innocent children. I can’t imagine.”