Wilder, Idaho, sisters speak out after mother’s shooting death

“We’re not going to just be another family with a victim’s story,” said Laura Diaz, right. At left is sister Judy.
“We’re not going to just be another family with a victim’s story,” said Laura Diaz, right. At left is sister Judy.

Nine months after 39-year-old Amparo Godinez Sanchez was brutally shot to death in her Wilder home, her three children have yet to find peace.

The suspect in the killing — Erasmo Diaz, 52, Godinez’s husband and the children’s father — fled. His car was found soon after the June 11 shooting, abandoned 12 miles away in Adrian, Ore. Diaz hasn’t been seen since.

The children struggle, recalling how their mom spent months recovering after a serious auto accident last year only to be killed her first week back at work as a manager at the Sorrento Lactalis cheese factory in Nampa. They also worry about their father still roaming free.

“I don’t really think we’ve been given that chance to really grieve for her because, right now, we’re so afraid that he is still out there,” said daughter Laura Diaz, 25. “Everyone’s worried about everyone. What if he comes after me now? What if I’m by myself and he finds me? You just don’t know.”

Laura and her sister, Judy, 22, spoke to an Idaho Statesman reporter last week. They said they wanted Treasure Valley residents to see their mother as more than a name in stories on her death and also to bring attention to domestic violence.

Generous mother

“She had a big heart. She was literally the heart of our family,” Judy Diaz said. “Our whole family right now is just destroyed. What do we do next? Do we keep going? We have to try to build that strength every day, for her.”

Godinez grew up in Grandview, Wash., located between Richland and Yakima. She moved her family to Wilder about 20 years ago over concerns about the availability of illicit drugs and other problems in Grandview.

“She wanted to give us a better opportunity at life, a fresh start. She didn’t want us to grow up in that kind of environment. She wanted to give us the best chance at a good education, so that’s why she brought us over here,” Laura said.

Judy nodded.

“She would always say, ‘I want you to do things better and I want you guys to go to school and get educated.’ That was something that was so important to her. When we graduated from high school and we went to college, she was so proud of us. She was so excited,” Judy said.

The two Diaz women have a younger brother, but because he is still a minor they asked that he not be identified.

Humble beginnings fueled compassion, strong work ethic

Godinez worked in farm fields growing up and started as a laborer at Sorrento Lactalis before working her way up to a management position. She never forgot her humble beginnings and worked to respect everyone, no matter their job, her daughters said. She would tell them to respect the janitor at a company as much as you would the CEO.

“She would always tell her workers, ‘I started from the bottom and I worked my way up. Just because I’m a manager now, I don’t see myself any different than anybody,’” Judy said.

She was a very simple person. She liked having us over at the house for barbecues and things like that. She was very unmaterialistic. She didn’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time.

Laura Diaz, on her mother Amparo Godinez

At their mom’s funeral, people came up to them and shared tales of Godinez’s generosity, stories they had never heard before.

“She would help a lot of people and she wouldn’t tell anybody about it,” Judy said.

“She was very humble. She wouldn’t throw those things out there like ‘I helped so and so,’” Laura added.

One woman told them her 16-year-old daughter wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for Godinez. She explained that Godinez provided her with money to pay part of the costs for a needed surgery for the child when she was younger.

“We never knew anything like that. We didn’t know that she helped another person get their first house. They needed money and she lent them money and they said, ‘We have a house because she helped us,’” Judy said.

While at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise for a month following the auto accident, so many people wanted to visit Godinez that her family had to make out a visiting hour list to provide her time to nap.

Godinez also wanted to make sure she looked good when people came calling.

“Sometimes she would say, ‘Please help me look good because I know there are people who are coming in. Do my hair or put some lipstick on me,’” Laura said, laughing at the memory.

One visitor they had to sneak into the room under a blanket.

“Mom kept saying she wanted to see Weenie, (her) little 5-pound Chihuahua. So we snuck her up in a blanket and put her on the bed and they were so happy to see each other,” Judy said.

“Someone knocked on the door, we grabbed the dog and put her under the blanket. The nurse came in and was checking her vitals and the dog’s under the blanket. It was the funniest thing we ever saw.”

Animals always part of the family

Godinez loved animals, her daughters said. They grew up with chickens, cows, cats, dogs, ducks, turkeys and fish. She even tried raising peacocks, but they ran away.

Often, people would come out to where they lived on Red Top Road, outside Wilder, and dump their unwanted dogs. The abandoned animals would tug at Godinez’s heart.

“She would go on these really long walks or runs and she would come home with them,” Judy said. “We were like, really, again? She was like, ‘Well, that’s why I live out here and we have enough space.’”

Both Laura and Judy Diaz said they want to become advocates to help other families impacted by domestic violence.

“We’re not going to just be another family with a victim’s story,” Laura said. “We’re going to pursue and see where we can shake some trees and get people really thinking there really is a problem out here.”

More than one abuse incident

Erasmo Diaz was arrested in July 2008 after pushing and striking Godinez during an argument. Judy, then 14, and Laura, 17, stepped in and struck their father with objects to protect their mother.

Diaz was arrested and charged with three felony counts of aggravated battery. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to 90 day in jail and placed on probation for a year.

A judge also returned three handguns confiscated from Diaz, despite the fact that federal law forbade him going forward from owning a firearm. Idaho has no corresponding state law, meaning the judge had no other recourse.

It’s not clear if one of those guns was later used to shoot and kill Godinez on June 11, 2015. That case is still ongoing and few details of her death have been released. Her family is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest.

Laura and Judy feel sadness for the family of the other Treasure Valley mother killed last year during a domestic abuse assault, and said they wished they knew more about her.

Chelsey Malone, 23, of Nampa, died Nov. 18 after she was stabbed to death. Her boyfriend, Brandon Shaw, 23, has just pleaded guilty to repeatedly stabbing Malone a week after he moved out of a home they shared together.

“You don’t hear about their struggles. You just hear about the victim, the crime and that’s it. You don’t hear anything about what led up to it,” Laura said.

Laura and Judy Diaz said they want to draw on the tragedy in their family to empower others. They believe domestic violence takes place more often than most people believe.

“Just because it’s not reported doesn’t mean it’s not going on. We went so long without any police coming out until then because she was so afraid,” Laura said.

“We stopped calling ourselves victims. We’re survivors,” said Judy. “We have a voice and we’re going to use it.”

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

One challenge: Educating victims about resources that can help

One in four women will face domestic violence in her lifetime, according to the Idaho Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In Idaho, more than 500 victims of domestic violence and their children seek safety and services from community-based programs each day.

The Nampa Family Justice Center serves 100 new clients a month and provide services to 4,000 domestic violence and sexual assault victims in Canyon County and surrounding counties each year, said Janice Strohmeyer, the agency’s client service coordinator. FACES of Ada County provides similar services in the Boise area.

Many victims do not realize services are available or they don’t believe they can survive finally if they leave an abusive partner, Strohmeyer said. There are often cultural or religious pressures to stay in a bad relationship, she said.

“It is so so daunting. What they have to face to get out is really, really hard,” she said. “We want to support them in any way possible.”

Laura and Judy Diaz said police handed their mother literature on domestic violence resources after the 2008 incident. But with everything going through her mind, they didn’t think that information sank in.

“I don’t think she really understood what her resources were,” Judy said.

That can be a problem, Strohmeyer agreed. That’s why it’s important for family members, coworkers and friends to help spread the word to people they suspect may be in an abusive relationship.

“We go out and give talks on intimate partner violence so people can understand when we talk about abuse, what that looks like,” Strohmeyer said.