Grief counselors reported to Poinciana Elementary in Boynton Beach and Don Estridge Middle in Boca Raton on Monday, prepared to comfort the classmates and staff who knew two boys murdered - alledgedly by their father - this weekend.
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Authorities say Marco Zavala, 11, and Eduardo Zavala, 12, were killed as their mother pleaded for Isidro Zavala to kill her instead.
The contrasts were hard to fathom for those who had met Isidro Zavala.
A devoted, church-going father insistent that his boys earn good grades, Zavala had apparently plotted for days on how kill his family to punish his wife after she filed for divorce. He may have plotted worse.
The couple was scheduled to meet with a court-ordered mediator on Tuesday. In a bag Boynton Beach crime scene investigators found at his former home on Southwest 8th Avenue was a TEC-9, a once-banned semi-automatic handgun, plus extra ammunition. There was duct tape. Cutting shears. And a note.
The note was addressed to the couple's eldest son, a 19-year-old former Little League star who no longer lived with his parents. Police have not released the note, but they described it as "emotional."
It was friends and neighbors who were emotional on Sunday, struggling with the tragic news Isidro Zavala had killed himself with a .38-caliber pistol after doing the unthinkable, killing two of his sons while their mother fought him and pleaded for him to kill her instead, at the home they had once shared.
Just before 2 a.m. Saturday, police found Eduardo strangled on the back patio. His little brother, Marco, died in the kitchen dining area, both strangled and shot. Their mother, Victoria Flores Zavala, had pleaded with Zavala, according to Boynton Beach Police Chief Matthew Immler.
"She said, 'Why won't you kill me?' He said, 'No, you're going to live with this,'" Immler told reporters.
It was difficult for those who knew him to understand: A man who used to sit quietly at his sons' Little League baseball games in Boynton Beach, Zavala was a landscaping company owner who could always be counted on to help trim the ballpark's hedges.
He loved a good laugh, a neighbor said, and rented comedies on the weekends. But Zavala, 45, also had a heavy hand when it came to parenting.
East Boynton League Vice President Jack McVey said the education-focused father went as far as to remove Eduardo from his beloved baseball team three years ago because the boy needed to focus more on school.
"(Zavala) was a fixture here. He would help us out immensely," McVey said of the man's constant involvement with the baseball league. "That's why it's so surprising that he did this."
Eduardo, who with Marco used to help their father mow lawns on Saturdays and Sundays, would often cry when his father corrected his mistakes, a neighbor said.
"(Eduardo) was a very sentimental kid," said Mariano Batalla, Zavala's neighbor and friend. "He spoke very strongly to the boys, and that affected them."
He had been living in an efficiency adjacent to Batalla's home, where he paid $350 a month in rent. Zavala moved in last fall, about when he and his wife filed for divorce in October. Boynton Beach police said there was no history of domestic violence calls to the family's address.
Batalla said Sunday that Zavala left him several hundred dollars and a letter dated Jan. 21, 2013, instructing him to keep the dead man's truck and tools.
Zavala's oldest son, Emanuel, visited his father's apartment Saturday night, Batalla said. The son did not say much, Batalla added.
As the sun set Sunday, a single red candle with a guardian angel image lighted the front yard of the small, yellow home Victoria shared with Eduardo and Marco on Southwest Eighth Avenue, tucked near a walled-off Interstate 95.
Earlier in the day, one woman who said her son attended to Odyssey Middle School with Emanuel - who was not present when Eduardo and Marco were killed - drove by to give Victoria "support as a mother."
But Victoria wasn't home.
Meanwhile, the parents of another boy who played with Emanuel on the all-star team left a supportive note taped to the front door.
About a mile east of the boys' home, at Southeast Third Street, Zavala's white Ford F-150 pickup truck was parked in the driveway, his work tools crammed into the front passenger seat.
Zavala worked at a golf course nearby, and had recently joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints off Woolbright Road, said Batalla.
The couple seemed at ease with each other, Batalla added. The boys were friendly, especially Eduardo, who last weekend offered Batalla and his father some cold water after their day's work mowing lawns.
Despite his marital problems, Batalla said he never thought of his friend as someone who could kill anyone, much less his children.
"He never mentioned to me anything about a gun, he never carried a gun," Batalla said. "He never showed that he was depressed, but in his mind, I guess he was planning it all."
Published in The Palm Beach Post from Feb. 5 to Mar. 4, 2013