DENVER -- It was one of the most horrific cases of domestic violence in Colorado history.
On June 22, 1999, Simon Gonzales violated a restraining order and kidnapped his three young daughters -- Rebecca, 10; Katheryn, 8; and Leslie, 7.
Early the next morning, the girl's bodies were found in the cab of the father's pickup truck after he engaged Castle Rock police in a gunfight outside police department headquarters.
A few days later, police told Denver7 the bullets removed from the girl's bodies came from their father's gun.
The girl's mother, Jessica (Gonzales) Lenahan, sued the department for its failure to enforce the restraining order.
“They were very dismissive of any request I made, belittling me for even asking them for help,” she told the ACLU.
The distraught mom’s journey, from domestic violence victim to human rights advocate, is the subject of a documentary called ‘Home Truth,’ which will be shown at 4 p.m. Wednesday (July 8) at the United Artists Denver Pavilions, as part of the Denver Film Festival.
Filmmaker April Hayes told Denver7 that she and fellow filmmaker Katia Maguire have been working on the documentary for ten years.
She said they first met Ms. Lenahan when she told her heartbreaking story to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“We thought, what does it take for this woman to do that over, and over, and over again, reliving that horrible night, and how can she keep doing that,” Hayes said.
During the ten-year period, the filmmakers have grown close to Lenahan.
“Jessica is strong and feisty and irreverent,” Hayes said, “and sort of fearless, but she’s also very vulnerable.”
Denver7 reached out to Ms. Lenahan to ask about the documentary, but according to Neil Truglio at the Denver Film Festival, she declined a request for an interview.
In the documentary, Lenahan describes how she dated and married Simon Gonzales, and how over time, he became very controlling on what she wore and who she spoke to.
She said he started making threats and talked about killing himself.
“He threatened his neighbors and said, ‘I’m going to die, you’re going to die, somebody’s going to die,” she told the filmmakers. “He actually tried to hang himself in front of my children.”
That’s when Lenahan decided to tell the truth, “no matter how painful or shameful.”
In documents later filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Lenahan alleged that Simon was heavily into drugs.
In May of 1999, a month before her children were killed, Lenahan asked for and was granted a restraining order.
She said Simon violated it by kidnapping the girls from her front yard.
When she called police, they told her she “shouldn’t worry because Simon was their father.”
Lenahan contacted police multiple times, but couldn't get them to do anything.
As June 22 turned into June 23, Simon pulled up to the police department and opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun he had purchased the same day he kidnapped the girls.
Police fired back, striking and killing him.
“They then found the bodies of my three children, shot to death in the cab of the pickup,” Lenahan said.
Supreme Court Case
Her lawsuit against the police department made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law.
With the help of the ACLU, Lenahan took her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
She told Commissioners that police refused to put out a missing child alert, and told her she needed to take the matter to divorce court.
“When I called at 10 p.m., the dispatcher said to me that I was being a little ridiculous making us freak out and thinking the kids are gone,” she said.
After hearing about the shooting, Lenahan said she drove to the police department, and that officers ignored her pleas to see her girls.
“The experience revictimized me all over again,” she told the Commissioners. “The media knew my girls were dead before my family or I did.”
The IACHR ruled that the United States violated Lenahan’s human rights.
Sacrificing to help others
“Jessica has achieved so much for other people,” Hayes said, “but it really cost her a lot.”
Hayes told Denver7, that in her attempts to seek justice, and to help other moms, Jessica sacrificed her relationship with her son, Jessie, who was 13 when his three sisters were killed.
“Jessica and Jessie is the core relationship in the film,” she said. “We see it going through ups and downs.”
Jessie told the filmmakers, “I don’t want my kids to deal with my problems. It’s not fair. I had to deal with my mom’s problems. It wasn’t fair.”
He said his mom was so consumed with trying to help others avoid a similar heartache, that she sometimes didn’t go grocery shopping for the household.
“There was a lot of tragedy,” Hayes said, “but we think there’s a lot of hope in seeing that relationship unfold, because there is so much love there, even though it’s a really difficult relationship.”
Hayes say Lenahan loves her grandchildren and wants to spend more time focusing on her life with her family and a little less on her “mission.”
“That was something she hoped for the film,” Hayes said, “that it could stand in and talk about some of the things that happened to her so that she can kind of move on and rest a little bit. She’s been through a lot.”