Federal officials criticize Denver Housing Authority's eviction of mother of slain woman

DENVER - Federal housing officials are condemning a decision by the Denver Housing Authority to evict relatives of a woman killed by a rampaging gunman three days after her slaying, saying there is room for compassion in federal law.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development spokesman Jerry Brown said Tuesday that his agency and the Denver Housing Authority are working to try to provide housing assistance to the mother and autistic son of 47-year-old Sandra Roskilly after they were locked out of their subsidized housing.

Brown said federal lease agreements for subsidized housing with communities limit the ability of residents to turn over property to other people, but the rules aren't carved in stone.

"Our rules and guidelines are just that, and we would hope people would use compassion. They have discretion, which is why the city has a board to administer it. There was no notification on our end of an eviction, and we didn't have a say in it," Brown told the Associated Press.

Police said 31-year-old Daniel Abeyta, shot his wife in the legs Friday morning before shooting and killing Roskilly, who lived next door. Abeyta, who was later shot by police, remained in police custody at a hospital Tuesday. He faces charges of first-degree murder, first-degree assault and unlawful possession of an explosive device.

Roskilly was the only person named on the lease for the home, but lived there with her mother, 70-year-old Doris Kessler, and autistic son, family members say.

Roskilly's brother, Dennis Campbell, says his mother was locked out of the home by the housing authority on Monday.

"She's been living here 10 years and now they're telling her she's just a visitor and she has no rights whatsoever," Campbell said.

"I gotta be honest with you," Campbell said. "I just felt like, there was no question in my mind that my mother would at least be able to finish out the lease."

The housing authority said it was forced to lock out Kessler under federal law because Roskilly was the head of the household and Kessler wasn't allowed to be on the lease because she lived there as a live-in aide. It also said Roskilly died without a will, requiring the unit to be locked until a public administrator could determine who should inherit Roskilly's belongings.

In a statement, the housing authority said staffers have "made themselves readily available to Ms. Kessler and other family members to enter the home to retrieve" medications and personal items.

"DHA has offered our condolences to the family of Ms. Roskilly and has offered to assist them during this transition," The DHA statement said. "We appreciate that Sandra Roskilly’s death has been traumatic for the family.  We will continue to work with them, the Denver Police Department, and the Public Administrator as the family navigates through these very difficult times."

The Denver Housing Authority owns and manages subsidized public housing under an agreement with the federal government. Denver agency spokeswoman Stella Madrid said the property was turned over to the public administrator on Monday.

"We secured all property in the unit yesterday and we secured the unit," Madrid said Tuesday. She refused further comment.

Kessler is now sleeping on a couch at the home of one of her children. Roskilly's autistic 18-year-old son is under state care at a facility in Pueblo, but friends say he often visited his mother. The housing authority said he hasn't lived in the home for a year.

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