Authorities have arrested a local man accused of killing his estranged girlfriend and her parents Monday and setting fire to their home in Old Jefferson, a grisly rampage that included the slaying of a 7-month-old fetus.
The suspect, Jatory Evans, 28, stabbed and set fire to his pregnant girlfriend, Sydney Hanson, in her upstairs bedroom and fatally shot her parents, the authorities said. Hanson's mother, Samantha Hanson, was said to have been stabbed about two dozen times and shot five times. Her father, Dwayne Hanson, was shot twice.
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Deputies took Evans into custody Tuesday following a 2:30 a.m. raid of his home in New Orleans East and booked him on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree feticide. He had scratches on his arm and cuts to his hands, authorities said, but he denied involvement in the massacre, which happened shortly after noon Monday at the Hanson home in the 4100 block of River Road.
Evans offered a potentially "exculpatory statement and an alibi" that detectives were looking into Tuesday, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said.
"This is still very much an active scene and an active investigation," Normand told reporters at an afternoon news conference. "We’ve seized a significant amount of evidence from the scene and still are processing the scene."
The timeline and motive of the killings remained unclear, and investigators also were trying to piece together a falling-out in which Sydney Hanson, 20, obtained a restraining order last month requiring Evans to stay at least 300 feet away from her. That document was found underneath Sydney Hanson's body at the crime scene, Normand said.
"We believe that she was intentionally set on fire in her bedroom," the sheriff said. "There were a number of books and other accelerant materials stacked on top of her body."
Evans had been dating Sydney Hanson, and he was the father of the of the unborn child, officials said. A search warrant obtained by the authorities said Evans had become "extremely controlling and abusive in the relationship," and it referred to a recent run-in Evans had with Hanson's father at the River Road residence.
Dwayne Hanson realized after the argument that his car had been damaged and, on Oct. 27, told the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office that he believed Evans was responsible. Following that incident, Dwayne Hanson, 46, obtained a handgun from a friend to protect his family, according to the search warrant.
Also on Oct. 27, Sydney Hanson received a temporary restraining order from 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, accusing Evans of continually sending "threatening texts" to her and her parents. A hearing had been scheduled for next week to determine whether to keep the temporary restraining order in place.
Hanson wrote in the court filings that Evans had gone to her job at the gift shop toward the front of the Audubon Zoo, and tried to get her fired. She added that Evans had sent "inappropriate pictures that were coerced from me through threats."
"He is now threatening to post them on social media and share them with others," Sydney Hanson wrote, noting Evans had been booked in March on a count of domestic violence battery in Livingston Parish.
Lori Steele, a Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, confirmed Evans had been booked there on that count and released on $2,530 bail. Further details of that arrest weren't available Tuesday.
Sydney Hanson had been scheduled to attend a baby shower at 11 a.m. Monday but did not show, Normand said. Concerned co-workers began to inquire as to her whereabouts.
Shortly before noon, the young woman's parents had taken a lunch break from their job at Laitram Machine Shop, in Harahan, stopping to get a sandwich before heading to their nearby home on River Road, a duplex between Causeway Boulevard and the Huey P. Long Bridge.
The Hansons directed a group of Laitram employees who worked on certain types of laithe machines, said Franck Labiche, the company's human resources director.
"They were both wonderful people, great employees, and very well-liked by our machine shop group," Labiche said. "They will definitely be dearly missed after their departure."
Witnesses told investigators they heard a series of gunshots sometime between 12:15 p.m. Monday and "a short period of time after 12:30 p.m.," Normand said. A half-hour or so later, witnesses said they could smell smoke, though they did not yet see any flames.
East Bank Consolidated Fire Department director Joseph Greco said firefighters discovered the victims while responding to a fire in the vicinity of the 4100 block of River Road before 3 p.m. Greco said the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office is now in charge of the scene.
Firefighters responded shortly after 2 p.m., when a woman arrived at the neighboring unit of the double and reported smoke pouring out of the residence. Crews found the body of Samantha Hanson, 45, lying face down near the front door. Dwayne Hanson's body was found in the kitchen.
"They could see that both of the individuals had gunshot wounds, and they immediately retreated," Normand said.
It was not until later in the evening, after the fire was extinguished, that authorities could enter the second floor of the home, where they found Sydney Hanson's body.
Authorities said Monday they believed a gunman may have been inside the home when firefighters arrived and saw blinds being pushed against a window. But the sheriff said Tuesday that investigators are "still not able to determine whether or not anyone was actually physically still in the structure at that point in time."
Evans appeared to be active in New Orleans' local mixed martial arts scene. He also worked at a local truck rental place, court records show. Normand said he did not know whether the man had a criminal history.
Sydney Hanson worked at the zoo for about two years, Audubon Nature Institute President Ron Forman said in a statement. Forman said Hanson's colleagues would remember her "as a delightful friend with ... a personality full of heart, who was always willing to help others."
A Chicago native, Dwayne Hanson studied at Illinois State University and Prosser Career Academy, according to his Facebook page. He posted photos taken from center field at Wrigley Field during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers in mid-September, less than two months before the Cubs won their first World Series championship since 1908.
A neighbor of the couple told The Advocate on Tuesday that the Hansons had twin, college-aged daughters.