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Boyfriend confessed to triple shooting, police say

Jose Luis Tejada was held without bail yesterday. Jose Luis Tejada was held without bail yesterday.
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / September 7, 2011

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LAWRENCE - Their texting conversation started as romantic banter, but just before 2 a.m. Monday, the tone changed. Sachary Montanez sent a message to Joseph Rivera that a bitter argument had erupted inside her apartment because her mother’s inebriated boyfriend was demanding the car keys.

“I’m about to go to jail, my brother is about to beef with my stepdad . . . I don’t know what to do,’’ Montanez wrote to Rivera, according to a text message log from Rivera’s cellphone, which he displayed yesterday morning near a makeshift memorial on the family’s front steps. While Montanez, 19, referred to Jose Luis Tejada as her stepdad, he and her mother, Milka Rivera, 39, were never married.

Joseph Rivera, 18, no relation to Milka, said Montanez sent one last cryptic text, “end up going,’’ at 1:56 a.m. He thinks she meant she would land in jail for defending herself against Tejada.

According to police, eight minutes later, Tejada shot and killed Montanez, her brother Maxariel Montanez, 16, and their mother inside their Maginnis Avenue apartment in the Beacon Courts housing development.

Tejada, who lived with the family, was arraigned yesterday on three counts of murder, various weapons charges, and cocaine possession. He stood silent in Lawrence District Court as his attorney, John Morris, submitted a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

According to Lawrence police reports filed in court, Tejada told investigators he killed his longtime girlfriend and her two teenage children with a .357-caliber handgun after he grew tired of the three shouting at him.

Tejada then turned the firearm on himself, but his suicide attempt failed because the weapon was empty, police said.

“I shot until there were no more bullets, then I tried to shoot myself, but there were no more bullets in the gun,’’ Tejada allegedly told police. “I’ve said all I’m going to say. Let the law do what it has to.’’

Tejada told police that he went for a walk and tossed the firearm away. Tejada then approached a man and told him that he had killed his family, police said.

That person summoned police, who discovered a gruesome scene in a second-floor bedroom of the family’s apartment.

“It was like something out of the movies,’’ police Officer Alan M. Laird wrote in a report. “The bodies of two women and a male were lying slumped over on each other, laying lifeless.’’

Police said bloodstains ran down the stairs into the kitchen and out the door.

The handgun allegedly used in the shootings was recovered near the back of the apartment, authorities said.

Judge Mark Sullivan ordered Tejada held without bail, after a five-minute hearing during which neither prosecution nor defense discussed the killings or the man accused of committing them.

About a dozen relatives and friends of the victims were in court, and when Tejada was brought into the courtroom, some burst into tears. Outside the courthouse, some expressed anger at Tejada.

Others, including Edna Rivera, were searching for an explanation. Tejada, she said, seemed like a doting boyfriend. Rivera said Tejada used to work at a butcher shop on Newbury Street in Lawrence while Milka Rivera worked as a secretary at the nearby Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.

Edna Rivera said Tejada often delivered lunch to Milka at work.

“He seemed like he was not capable of killing a bug,’’ said Rivera, who is not related to Milka Rivera.

On Monday, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said the killings were an act of domestic violence, although he did not say what triggered the bloodshed. The deaths shocked the family’s neighbors, who held a vigil outside their home Monday night.

Milka Rivera had worked for several years as a receptionist at the health center and was a devoted mother who put her children at the center of her life, friends said.

Sachary, who was recalled on Monday as a funny, sweet spirit who “loved her life,’’ was studying business at Hesser College in New Hampshire. She was spending the summer with her family and was working part time at an area Wal-Mart.

Maxariel had found direction after discovering football at Greater Lawrence Technical School, where the 280-pound teenager was expected to be a key part of the team this season.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.