They were a family about to break up. The police found them Wednesday night behind their apartment door in Harlem — a 5-year-old girl, her mother and father — all dead.
The 46-year-old father was found hanging in one bedroom, the police said. His 42-year-old wife was found in the bathroom, with her throat slit. The couple’s 5-year-old girl was found dead in another bedroom, also with her throat cut, the police said.
Police officials said they believed the man was responsible for all three deaths. They also said the couple was in the middle of a divorce proceeding.
The man was Yonathan Tedla, and his wife was Jennifer Schlecht, the woman’s father, Kenneth Schlecht, said. The couple’s daughter, Abnysh, had just turned five in September.
Mr. Schlecht, 75, said his daughter had expressed fear for her and her child’s safety in a telephone call to her parents . She had called her parents on Sunday.
“She was in tears, a basket case,” her father recalled. “She didn’t know if he would carry on with the threats.”
Mr. Schlecht said Mr. Tedla had told Ms. Schlecht that he “was going to ruin her or take all of them down.”
“He said he was not going to lose, that he always wins,” Mr. Schlecht said.
Her family tried calling her all day on Wednesday, but she didn’t pick up, her father said. “It was not like her,” he said. After 9 p.m. the family called 911 and asked the police to check on her. “They had to break into the floor and found three bodies,” he said.
“How do you do this?” Mr. Schlecht said. “Kill your own child?”
He said his daughter had married Mr. Tedla about seven years ago. They met at Columbia University, where she studied public health and social work.
When the Schlecht family first met Mr. Tedla, he seemed like a “very smart, clever person,” Mr. Schlecht said. But later, he added, Mr. Tedla become violent toward Ms. Schlecht and she tried for years to leave him. He refused to go, ripping up the divorce papers each time she tried.
“She could not change the locks as long as he legally lived there,” Mr. Schlecht said. “She was planning to serve him divorce papers and an order of protection first.”
He said his daughter as a giving person who often traveled to Kenya to help the needy.
To neighbors, the family’s inner turmoil was not apparent. They said Mr. Tedla seemed to dote on his young daughter and was often seen in the neighborhood carrying her on his shoulders. “He looked really, really happy all the time,” one neighbor said. “He was always smiling.”
Another neighbor, Jane Chancellor, 82, said on Thursday that she saw the family from time to time, and neither of the parents had mentioned they were going through a divorce.
“I talked to him yesterday,” Ms. Chancellor said, breaking into tears. “I clean the sidewalk and he jogs everyday, and he stretches and we joke.”
She said she could not fathom how he had killed his daughter, whom she called “a precious thing.”
“How could he!” she said.
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