DEL VALLE, Texas (KXAN) — The man who authorities say kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and then shot her to death in front of Travis County Sheriff’s deputies has died from his self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Charles Werchan, 26, from Elgin, was accused of killing his ex-girlfriend Ibeth Lopez, 26, last week in Del Valle. Around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 15, authorities say Werchan entered SportClips Haircuts in Bastrop and demanded Lopez, who worked there, come with him. When she resisted, police say he pulled out a gun and made the victim come with him.
Werchan then left with Lopez and drove westbound on State Highway 71 towards the Austin-area. When he approached Del Valle, he encountered a traffic jam due to a protest on the highway. The suspect decided to turn off SH 71 and drove onto Burch Drive.
A deputy driving by saw the vehicle next to the church with both doors open and pulled over to investigate. Werchan and Lopez were seen by deputies walking across a field behind the church near Burch Drive when another two deputies came down the road. As they approached Werchan, he pulled out his gun and shot Lopez, deputies say. She died at the scene. When one of the deputies began firing at the suspect, Werchan shot himself in the head.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office says Werchan was declared brain dead on Feb. 16 and his body was sent to the Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy on Feb. 18.
On Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 12:28 p.m., just an hour before the shooting, Werchan posted a video of himself on his Facebook page while he was in the car listening to music. At one point he flashes a gun and money. It’s unclear if it is the gun used in the shooting. Fifteen minutes later, he posted a photo of himself with the caption “no more pain.”
In a statement released to KXAN, Werchan’s sister says, “Our family is grieving over this tragedy. At this time, we will refrain from providing any information until the Texas Rangers have completed their investigation. We deeply appreciate the outpouring of love and support the community has provided to us during this difficult time. Thank you for giving us privacy during our time of grief.”
Lopez’s family said she tried reporting Werchan to Manor and Bastrop police departments. Elgin Police confirmed she called 911 on Jan. 24 — just about three weeks before she was killed — from the Catholic church she attended. Lopez told dispatchers that Werchan was stalking her, that he was trying to get into her car, and was banging on her car door and windows.
Elgin police say Werchan left before an officer arrived on scene. However, a little more than an hour later, Lopez called 911 again to report that Werchan had returned and was harassing her. Elgin Police Chief Chris Bratton told KXAN that because Werchan left the scene after both 911 calls, they did not have physical evidence of a crime that occurred within their city limits. An officer told Lopez that because of where she lived, she needed to work with the Travis Co. Sheriff’s Office in order to obtain a restraining order against Werchan. The issue, the chief says, was jurisdiction.
KXAN asked the TCSO if Lopez tried to obtain the order after the incident in Elgin, but we were told details of the investigation could not be released at this time.
Regardless, countless friends and family members say Lopez tried to leave Werchan. Family also tells us that the couple broke up two years ago, but say Werchan continued to harass her.
KXAN sat down with former Travis Co. assistant district attorney Kelsey McKay, who spent more than a decade prosecuting domestic violence cases. McKay says the highest risk of homicide in a violent relationship occurs when a victim tries to leave the abusive relationship. That’s why she says it is so important for victims to have a safety plan.
“It is so important that when victims are leaving an abusive relationship, they do adequate safety planning, they reach out to the national hotline, they talk with local shelters to get guidance about how to leave that relationship safely,” she said. “But unfortunately, this is one of those examples that really highlights the challenge for victims. She can leave as much as she wants. She can stay away. She can do everything right. It is the batterer–it is the abuser–who ultimately makes that decision.”
McKay says it’s heartbreaking Lopez lost her life. “Why wasn’t something done to stop this? That is just something that you can’t answer or heal for somebody,” she said.
McKay works as a consultant and national trainer on domestic violence and strangulation, serving currently as the chair of the strangulation task force. She says stalking behavior can oftentimes become common in domestic violence cases. “Whether that’s in the form of a phone call, a threat or an implied threat, or it’s showing up places,” said McKay.
“Domestic violence is an epidemic,” said McKay. “It’s happening in every county, in every school, in every community, in many more households than people understand or want to acknowledge.”
The challenge can often present itself on both sides of the case–for prosecution and for victims.
“[Stalking statute] is something that we probably don’t criminally enforce as much as I wish we could. It’s such a challenging burden to prove. It’s a difficult investigation. It’s pretty lengthy, and it can have difficulties in the prosecution of it,” McKay said. “In the end, a protective order’s a piece of paper. The reality is that a piece of paper can’t stop something like this, necessarily.”
Lopez has an 8-year-old daughter, who is not related to the suspect, the victim’s sister-in-law says. Family describes Lopez as a hardworking single mom from Elgin who was working two jobs this past holiday season.
“She was so bubbly, always having fun, enjoying time with the kids, you know, always trying to teach them something,” said Cindy Calderon, a friend and former coworker. “From singing ABCs to numbers and doing the hokey pokey and dancing herself all around.”
In a GoFundMe page, family members say Lopez will be missed “more than words can express.”
For resources and information on to help yourself or someone you know who may be experiencing violence in a relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-(800)787-3224. For local shelter information, visit the Hope Alliance website or contact SAFE Alliance.