A 40-year-old nurse and mother of three died of strangulation, not the fire that ravaged her Oak Forest home this week, police said this afternoon.
Erica L. Rodriguez’s death has been ruled a homicide after an autopsy by the Cook County medical examiner’s office today.
“We will continue the investigation and will be relentless until we bring the responsible party to justice,” said Oak Forest Police Chief Gregory Anderson in a written statement.
About 9 a.m. Tuesday authorities responded to a house in the 15200 block of Central Avenue in Oak Forest, where Rodriguez was found dead and her husband, 48-year-old Martin Rodriguez, was found critically injured, Anderson said.
Rodriguez was pronounced dead at 10:03 a.m. at Palos Community Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
Martin Rodriguez suffered critical injuries and was first taken to South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest and then to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Anderson said.
Martin Rodriguez’s throat was severely cut and “he was also burned very severely,” Anderson said.
Police have not been able to talk to Martin Rodriguez because of the severity of his injuries, Anderson said today.
Three children who live at the home -- girls 17 and 6, and a boy, 15 -- were at school at the time of the fire, police said. They are staying with a family member.
Martin Rodriguez's daughter, 27-year-old Alejandra Rodriguez of Grand Rapids, Mich., had visited the family in September.
She said her stepmother, Erica Rodriguez, worked weekends so she could spend more time with her children during the week and attend their athletic events.
"She was a very good mom," Alejandra Rodriguez said.
She traveled to Oak Forest to introduce her dad and siblings to her 1-year-old daughter, Tatiana, Martin Rodriguez's first grandchild.
"He just smiled really big, he was excited. He said, 'She looks just like you,'" she said, starting to cry. "I just hope he's OK."
Neighbor Lydia Ponczak said she heard the sirens and then saw thick smoke, which appeared to be billowing from the home's kitchen.
"You know that those three children will be left with this horrible memory," she said. "I feel very sorry for the children."Neighbor Sheila Browne said she saw emergency responders carrying Martin Rodriguez away.
"I was just so shocked by the whole scene," she said. "There was smoke everywhere."
Browne said Erica Rodriguez was always friendly and helped once in particular two years ago by talking her through her grief after she lost her mother.
"She more so just listened," Browne said.
A passer-by called in the fire about 9 a.m., and eight firetrucks and about four or five ambulances were at the scene, Anderson said. The two-story beige home was severely damaged and roped off with yellow caution tape.
Family and friends of Erica Rodriguez have established a fund for her three children.
“The children have very few belongings left and we would appreciate and love any support and help that we could get,” said Rodriguez’s father, John Johnson, in a written statement.
Rodriguez’s 17-year-old daughter, 15-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were at school during the fire, which destroyed their home. Oak Forest police said Rodriguez’s death is being investigated as a homicide.
“Erica was the most beautiful person in the world and she was extremely proud of and loved her children,” said family friend Rhana Peloquin, in a written statement.
The Trust Rodriguez Family Fund is at the Carlinville National Bank - Oak Forest, police said.
New toys and clothes for the Rodriguez children can be dropped off at the Oak Forest Police Department, 15440 South Central Avenue.
The Oak Forest Police and Fire departments, the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force and the State Fire Marshal's office will continue investigating. “We’re exploring all avenues,” Anderson said.