Manhunt after national guardswoman and her blind daughter, 11, found shot dead in SUV in Massachusetts

Chasity Nunez and her daughter Zella  (WSMV 4)
Chasity Nunez and her daughter Zella (WSMV 4)

A manhunt has been launched after a national guardswoman and her legally blind daughter were shot dead in Massachusetts.

Chasity Nunez, 27, and her 11-year-old daughter, Zella Nunez, were in a parked SUV on Lisbon Street in Worcester on Tuesday afternoon when their car was sprayed with gunfire just after 3pm.

Local residents described hearing at least 12 gunshots in a row “one after another.”

“I could hear this sound, that was not like anything I’ve heard before,” neighbour Linda Orcutt told CBS News.

The pair were found with “serious injuries” from gunshot wounds before being rushed to a hospital where they died, according to the Worcester Police Department.

Police said in court documents that surveillance video shows “the victims parked in their vehicle and that two people walk up to the vehicle and start shooting,” the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported.

Dejan Belnavis (Worcester Police Department)
Dejan Belnavis (Worcester Police Department)

The footage also shows a car circling the area before the shooting and leaving afterward, according to court documents. The car was later found in Hartford, Connecticut.

Police launched a manhunt for the suspect, 27-year-old Dejan Belnavis, who is considered armed and dangerous.

Officers also arrested 28-year-old Karel Mangual on Wednesday night in connection with the shooting, and charged him with armed assault to murder and carrying a firearm without a license.

Mangual had “a preexisting arrest warrant” when he was taken into custody, police said.

Following the deaths, city leaders condemned the shooting, with Worcester City Manager Eric Batista, Mayor Joseph Petty, interim Police Chief Paul Saucier and Superintendent of Schools Rachel Monárrez releasing a joint statement on the “senseless loss of two Worchester residents.”

“An act of such violence has no place in our city,” they said. “The residents of Worcester deserve better, and we will stand alongside our community in sorrow and solidarity.”

Worcester Police investigate the shooting on Tuesday, March 5 (AP)
Worcester Police investigate the shooting on Tuesday, March 5 (AP)

Meanwhile, Worcester City Councilor and Vice Chairman Khrystian King paid tribute to the family, who he said he knew.

“This is a deeply, deeply dark moment for our city,” he said. “The folks must be brought to justice – it’s very clear that their intentions were exactly what they were.”

Relatives of the mother and daughter also paid tribute to them following their deaths. “She was a little girl,” said Zella’s cousin and godfather, Tyrae Sims.

The SUV the victims were sitting in was sprayed with bullets (WSMV 4)
The SUV the victims were sitting in was sprayed with bullets (WSMV 4)

“She was a little girl. And they willingly did that. Like looked, saw, do you know what I’m saying? Like, that’s what upsets me. Saw that she was a little girl and did that. That’s ridiculous,” he told CBS News.

Chasity Nunez was a decorated patient administration specialist and had just finished serving four years in the 142nd Medical Company. She was due to return to service Saturday in Connecticut.

Her command praised her for her “wit, social nature, and dedication to duty,” adding that she was “one of the best Soldiers” in the unit.

“Our hearts are broken because we lost Specialist Chasity Nunez to senseless violence,” National Guard Major David Pytlik said in a statement to MassLive.

“I cannot begin to make sense of why this happened and why her family, friends, co-workers, and fellow soldiers have been robbed of her and Zella,” he added.

Mr Sims told NBC 10 Boston that Zella was legally blind.

“Zella was just the best, she was the best, so full of life, such a good little girl, she didn’t deserve it at all,” he said.

In a heartwrenching message to the mother and daughter’s killers, Mr Sims said he hopes “they know the gravity of what they just did, they took two beautiful souls senselessly.”

“When did it become OK to harm women and children?” Mr Sims added. “When did those gloves come off?”

Authorities did not immediately release a potential motive for the killings, and it is unclear what the relationship may have been between the two men and the victims.