Fueled by drugs and jealousy, a West Side man with a history of domestic violence used a large sword to kill his girlfriend and critically injure her 15-year-old daughter Monday afternoon, according to authorities.
But Juan "Shorty" Castro, 63, met his match when he threatened two Buffalo police officers who responded to the stabbing. After repeatedly refusing to drop the sword and making threatening movements with it, he was shot and critically wounded by Central District Police Officer Paul L. Sobkowiak, though he is expected to survive, police said.
"He wouldn't put the sword down. It was covered in blood and so was he from the neck down. He started walking away from the cops and he'd turn around and face them like he was scared, but threatening," said Nikki Conway, a neighbor who watched the drama unfold from her open apartment window. "The cops kept telling him to 'put the sword down.' "
As Castro moved further away from the scene of the stabbings inside 478 Normal Ave., Tony Rivera, Conway's boyfriend, said he began shouting out the window to Castro in Spanish to put down the weapon, realizing the situation was escalating out of control.
Then, at about 12:15 p.m., a single gunshot rang out.
Castro collapsed in the vicinity of 464 Normal, police said. A radio call went out ordering Rural/Metro Medical Services crews to back away from the immediate scene for their own protection.
But Castro, with a neck laceration and gunshot wound to the stomach, no longer was a threat. He was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he was in critical condition Monday night.
Inside the 2 1/2 -story house at 478 Normal, Maria Pagan, 45, lay on the floor dying from sword wounds to her back, according to her loved ones and information from police and other officials.
Zayra Pagan, an honor student at Hutchinson-Technical High School, was still alive with grave sword wounds to her stomach and chest. She was rushed to Women & Children's Hospital, where she was in critical condition late Monday, police said.
"The officers who handled this call did nothing improper. There was blood all over the house. Two people were wounded, one of them fatally. When they got outside, this individual was putting his sword up over his head, as though he might take a swipe at the officers," said Thomas H. Burton, attorney for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
There are indications that when police arrived, Castro had already left the house through a back door, based on accounts offered by the neighbors who witnessed the confrontation between him and police, and the blood-stained snow trail leading away from the back door.
Castro, Burton added, was "a step or two" away from the two officers and "could have easily reached them with the sword."
"One officer fired one shot," Burton said. "When somebody raises a Samurai sword at you, after you've drawn your gun and repeatedly warned him to put it down, you have to act."
Castro lived with Maria Pagan for several years, but recently moved out after Pagan told him to leave because he had started using drugs, according to Judith Ortiz, who described herself as Pagan's best friend.
"She called me after 11 a.m. [Monday] to make arrangements to go shopping up on Grant Street and said Shorty was at her apartment. I said, 'You let him back in?' and she said he was incapable of hurting her or Zayra. That was Maria, sweet and naive," Ortiz said.
Ortiz said she had traveled to Boston with the mother and daughter for the Christmas and New Year holidays to visit family members and, when they returned home Jan. 3, Castro went through his girlfriend's purse and found a digital camera with photographs showing Maria with an old boyfriend.
"Shorty kept making threats against Maria and we went down to City Court last week to get an order of protection. We were told we'd have to wait to see the judge, but I had to get to a doctor's appointment," Ortiz said, breaking down in tears.
She and other acquaintances of the couple said that Castro had a history of violence.
Castro was charged with attempted murder in March 2001 in what authorities at the time described as a "lover's quarrel" for allegedly stabbing a woman. Back then, he fought with police and after being subdued, Central District officers recovered a knife in his possession.
Police had said Castro violated an order of protection by approaching the woman. He was convicted of attempted first-degree assault and sentenced to five years in state prison.
Eddy Cortez, the son-in-law of Judith Ortiz, was interviewed by police at Monday's scene.
"The officers told me that Maria's daughter was stabbed in their upper apartment and that Maria ran downstairs and began knocking on her neighbor's door for help.
"When the neighbor opened the door, he was stabbing Maria in the back and the neighbor dragged Maria into the apartment ," Cortez said.
Pagan, police said, was declared dead on arrival at ECMC.
Legally blind in her right eye, Pagan received Social Security disability payments and stayed at home raising her teenage daughter and her son, Emanuel, 20, who was out visiting a friend at the time of the attack, Judith Ortiz said.
Pagan was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Buffalo many years ago.
After her husband, Ivan Pagan, died, she moved back to Puerto Rico with her children, but was introduced to Castro, who had gone there for a visit.
The two hit it off and Pagan returned to Buffalo to live with Castro, Ortiz said. When he started using drugs, she said, the relationship began to fall apart.
"Maria called me last Friday and read a letter Shorty had written her begging to get back with her. If she would forgive him, he would forgive her if she did anything wrong in Boston. She didn't do anything wrong," Ortiz said.
On another front, a report was circulating that someone videotaped the confrontation between Castro and police and then left the scene, according to police officials who have issued an appeal asking the individual to allow them to view the video, if it exists. Homicide detectives can be reached at 851-4466.
News Staff Reporters Dan Herbeck, Gene Warner and Aaron Besecker contributed to this report.