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Slaying of Puerto Rican evacuee at Kissimmee motel shakes community

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 © Osceola County Jail    Leumas Moraza, 38.

By Bianca Padró Ocasio, MSN

A Hurricane Maria survivor was shot and killed in front of her mother and two children Thursday at the Kissimmee Super 8 motel where the family has stayed since the storm devastated Puerto Rico, police said.

Maria Santiago-Burgos, 43, was shot in her leg, back and face, Kissimmee police said in a charging affidavit. Leumas Moraza, 38, was arrested on charges of domestic homicide and aggravated assault after turning himself in to police.

Moraza told police he knew Santiago-Burgos for about 14 years, according to the document. The two reconnected in January when she arrived in Central Florida, where he lived, and developed an intimate relationship, he said.

The shooting rattled motel guests, including other families displaced from Puerto Rico after Maria.

Carmen Santiago, who is staying at the Super 8 motel, said she had just come back from an event where Puerto Rican families celebrated a housing aid extension granted by FEMA on Thursday. “I came in, I said hello to my husband and then suddenly, ‘Boom.’ And the floor shook,” Santiago said.

“I panicked because you don’t expect any of that. These walls are like paperboard and the ceiling is more or less the same,” she said. “Then I heard a woman come out and say, ‘Please help my daughter! Help my daughter!’”

She said she came out of her room and the scene was immediately surrounded by law enforcement, so she wasn’t allowed back into her room until after 3 a.m.

The shooting happened during a heated argument about 10:30 p.m. Santiago-Burgos’ children, whose ages were not released, later told police they yelled at Moraza to leave their mother alone, but he pointed a gun at the family and told them to back away, the affidavit said.

Her son hid in the bedroom, but Santiago-Burgos’ daughter and 64-year-old mother said she threw herself on the floor before Moraza shot her in her lower body, according to the affidavit. With help from a family member, Santiago-Burgos sought refuge in the bedroom with her son, locking the door behind them, the affidavit said.

Moraza broke the door and shot her two more times, the family told police.

Moraza told investigators he had moved into Santiago-Burgos’ hotel room with her family about a month ago, the document shows. The couple got into an argument because Moraza said Santiago-Burgos was “distant,” and he was suspicious that she was seeing another man, he told police.

Just prior to the shooting, Santiago-Burgos had begun to pack up his things, and they started to scream at each other, he said. Moraza said Santiago-Burgos tried to reach for his 9mm Ruger handgun on his waistband, and he accidentally shot her in the stomach.

He told authorities he did not recall what happened after the first shot but claimed Santiago-Burgos goaded him to shoot her during their argument: “I know you always have your firearm with you, if you want, just shoot me three times.”

Shortly after the shooting, he called police to turn himself in.

“I’m walking down [U.S. Highway] 192 in Kissimmee. I was arguing with my girlfriend ... and I shot her,” he told a 911 dispatcher. “I just want the police to pick me up, that’s it.”

Santiago-Burgos was taken to a nearby hospital where she later died.

Moraza was booked into the Osceola County Jail, where he is being held without bail, records show.

Orlando Carrasquillo, 52, said he was in his room at the motel when he heard the shots fired.

Carrasquillo said he and Santiago-Burgos both arrived in Kissimmee in the aftermath of the storm.

Though they only knew each other for about four months, they were both maintenance workers at a theme park and developed a friendship, he said. Carrasquillo said Santiago-Burgos was humble and had a good sense of humor.

After hearing the shots, Carrasquillo said he heard a woman yelling, so he went to help her. He said he found Santiago-Burgos lying wounded on the floor of her motel room.

“I saw her struggling … but the damage was already done, I couldn’t do anything,” said Carrasquillo.

Volunteers with Vamos4PR, an organization that has advocated for evacuees from Puerto Rico, said they are working with agencies in the county to offer counseling for the children and families disturbed by the event.

Carlos Vázquez Otero contributed to this story.

bpadro@orlandosentinel.com or 407-232-0202 or follow me on Twitter @BiancaJoanie

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U.S. - U.S. Daily News: Slaying of Puerto Rican evacuee at Kissimmee motel shakes community
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