In 2010, a 20-year-old Middletown woman was shot to death in Glasgow in a murder-suicide carried out by her ex-boyfriend, who her family said physically and emotionally abused her.
With that tragic event in mind, last month Dawn Schatz, a counselor at Middletown High School held a domestic violence seminar for students. She wanted to show students the signs to look for in abusive relationships and that anyone could fall victim to one – no matter where they’re from or what they look like.
During one session, she asked the students if they knew anyone in an abusive relationship. All 15 raised their hands.
Statistics show that 40 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend and that one in three female teens in a serious relationship has feared for her physical safety.
“Students are often shocked at how ‘normal’ and ‘like me’ the deceased teens appear and that abuse does not discriminate,” Schatz said.
One of those “normal” girls was Middletown’s Jessica Casalvera. This is her story.
“Love Without Limits”
Less than a month before what would have been her 21st birthday, Jessica Casalvera convinced her mother to let her get a tattoo.
Her mother, Kathy Yetter, gave in.
The tattoo was going to be her birthday present, but she couldn’t wait until April 13.
So on March 23, 2010, Jess ventured to the tattoo parlor with Yetter’s credit card and her friend, Matt.
When she arrived home, the words “L’amore Senza Limiti,” Italian for “love without limit” were tattooed on the front of her hip.
“She was so excited,” Yetter said. “She was showing everyone.”
Later that night, Jess went into her room to change and left the house with Matt. Yetter assumed the two were going out together.
But that wasn’t the case.
At 10:30 that night, the doorbell of Yetter’s Middletown home rang. Jess’s step dad, Travis Yetter answered it. It was their daughter’s friend Courtney Bishop, now 22. She ran in the house asking where Jess was.
“Ramiro’s been shot.”
From the beginning…
Yetter said her daughter always knew what she wanted.
“She wasn’t going to let anyone hold her back.”
During Jess’s senior year at Delcastle High School she began working at Season’s Pizza in Bear where another employee, Ramiro Benitez, 16, became very persistent with her.
At first, Yetter said her daughter couldn’t stand the other teen.
“She was set in her ways,” she said. “It made me happy she was like that. I was envious of her.”
Page 2 of 5 - When Jess was a toddler, Yetter was in an abusive marriage. They divorced when Jess was two, and the custody battle began.
Both Jess and her brother, Eric, were sent to counseling as their mother fought to deny her ex-husband visitation. Eventually she won when the courts learned that the man was abusing his new girlfriend in front of their children.
Yetter knew the signs of an abusive relationship long before her daughter met Benitez.
By the time Jess turned 18, all anyone could do was try to talk to her. The 16-year-old living in the Glasgow Trailer Park had somehow won the cosmetology student over, and the two began dating.
“She didn’t tell me much about him,” Yetter said. “And when she did, she would say all good things.”
Bishop and Jess met their freshman year of high school. They rode the same and took a few classes together. After Jess lost her job, Bishop got her a job at the pizza shop where she and Benitez worked. Before that, Bishop didn’t really talk to Benitez. Even when Jess began dating him, she said the two didn’t talk much at work since they didn’t have time to interact.
“Outside of work, from what I hear was good,” Bishop said. “Then about four to six months into the relationship, things changed and so did she.”
Soon after, Eric also began working at the pizza restaurant with his sister, giving the family more insight into their oldest child’s secret relationship.
“He used Jess,” Yetter said. “He had no car, and as time went on we would hear horror stories.”
They learned that Benitez was living in the country illegally.
“He would tell [Jess] what she could and could not wear, she couldn’t speak to guys, even at work,” Bishop said. “If she did, he would accuse her of cheating automatically.”
Yetter said that he would do things to intentionally hurt their daughter.
The relationship gets worse
After graduating high school, Jess began taking classes at Wilmington University in early childhood education. But she quit before the year was over.
The relationship between Jess and Benitez was growing stronger, Yetter said. “That’s when I started realizing something was wrong.”
Jess stopped talking to her friends and lost her ambition, Yetter said. She was in debt. They never went on dates. He never bought her gifts.
“He was very controlling,” Yetter said.
The only places they would go were to his trailer or he would make her pay for a hotel room.
“She dyed her hair black for him. She went from having hopes and dreams to having none,” Bishop said. “It was like she shut down. She became obsessed with him and only wanted to see him.”
Page 3 of 5 - “It was very sad to watch her change the way she did.”
Soon, the Yetter’s learned from their son that Benitez had been kicked out of high school for fighting with brass knuckles. Everything Jess would say about him though, reflected a different reality.
One Christmas, against Travis Yetter’s will, Benitez was invited over their home.
“I didn’t want him here,” he said. “He was a jerk, and we knew it, but Jess was an adult.”
Benitez didn’t stay long, but he left a lasting impression.
He came over wearing gloves with the fingers cut out, had no manners and hardly spoke. Travis Yetter refused to come in the room.
“I let him come here for Jess,” her mother said. “I wanted to find out what was going on.”
Since she had been through an abusive relationship, Yetter said she knew the signs. She didn’t want to accept it, because Jess was always a strong girl.
Growing up, her daughter was playful and fun and the family got along great.
But as time went on, when Jess would come home she would go right to her room and not talk to anyone. Her mother said that she was becoming very secretive.
The Yetter’s did everything they could to try to keep their daughter from seeing Benitez. Even after the two broke up after two years of dating, Jess would still try to see him.
There were times that they would literally have to drag Jess from his home, Travis Yetter said. Eventually, Travis put a GPS system in Jess’s car to make sure she wasn’t going to see him. They would even check her cell phone to make sure he wasn’t calling her.
“We did our best to keep her safe,” her mother said.
She tried to get Jess to talk to a counselor, but once she got Jess on the phone, she pretended nothing was wrong.
The first time that Yetter found out that Benitez was physically beating her was when Jess told the police.
Later they found a pre-paid cell phone she was using to talk to him, and on it, the family found mean text messages that he sent her.
Things begin to look up
After two years of dating, Jess and Benitez broke up and things seemed to be getting better.
Jess was going to be 21 that April and she was looking forward to it.
“She was upset, but she hid things well,” Kathy Yetter said. “When I thought everything was good, I thought maybe we should make off and let her have a life.”
Page 4 of 5 - Jess began working at Pat’s Pizza in Middletown. She made a whole new group of friends there – friends who her mother said were part of a good crowd.
“She was very happy going out with them,” she said.
Things continued to get better in 2010.
Jess had her cosmetology license renewed and her mother purchased some of the supplies she would need to get started in her new career.
Then on March 23, Jess got her early 21st birthday present just hours before her life ended.
“I never got the chance to see [the tattoo],” Bishop said. “She wanted to show me that night but I was in class. She was probably excited to show [Benitez.]”
A mother’s worst nightmare
After Bishop arrived that night with the news of Benitez’s death, the Yetter’s began to call around looking for Jess.
At first, Kathy Yetter said she didn’t have a bad feeling when they left their Middletown home to go look for Jess. But then her daughter’s friend received a text message saying that there was another person dead in the trailer.
And that’s when she knew.
In the week leading up to the murder, Bishop said that her friend’s relationship was rough and rocky, and probably the worst it has ever been.
“They were on one week, and off the next,” she said. “He’d tell her he loved her, then break up with her. It crushed her.”
Her brother was in the Glasgow area that night with a friend and he drove over to the trailer park to see what was going on. The Yetter’s were less than half-mile away when he called his stepdad’s phone.
“He said ‘take mom home, Jessie’s dead,’” she recalled.
New Castle County police conducted a murder investigation and found that Benitez shot Jess in the upper body before turning the weapon on himself.
They had responded to the trailer at 9:40 p.m. that night.
Jess was dead by the time police arrived.
Kathy Yetter still asks herself why her daughter went over to his house that night.
She still wonders if the tattoo was for him, or if she went there to show him.
“She was my first born; we were very close,” she said. “All she wanted was to be loved.”
The police ruled the incident a murder-suicide. But Yetter wanted more answers. She said she harassed police to find out where Benitez got the gun that killed her daughter, since there was no one else to be blamed for it. It took a few months, and it wasn’t the answer she was looking for, but Yetter learned that the gun was registered to an elderly woman in California and that someone else had purchased it at a yard sale.
Page 5 of 5 - The night of the murder, the GPS showed that Jess hid her car in a parking lot on U.S. Route 40 and cut through to the trailer park. One of her friends found the car at 4 a.m. the next morning.
Yetter said that what happened that night impacted a lot of people.
“I don’t think there’s a word to describe it,” Bishop said. “The pain that comes along with her death, the trauma, its just unimaginable what her family, her friends and I’ve been through.”
This January, at least five teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 were killed boyfriends or ex-boyfriends in the United States. Men can also be victims of domestic violence, Schatz said.
“Girls should know that it can happen to them, and it does happen,” Bishop said. “It’s never too late to get out. It’s not love, it’s torture.”
Gov. Jack Markell recently signed a proclamation declaring February 2012 Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
For the past two years, the family has held fundraisers in Jess’ name where all of the proceeds go to Child Inc., the counseling service that helped the family get through Yetter’s previous marriage when the children were younger.
This year, a walk will be held in May.
In October, they are planning a Beef and Beer at the Townsend Fire Hall.
“Every October as long as I live, I want to have a domestic violence fundraiser,” Yetter said. “I promised Jess that I would help at least one person with her story.”