Colorado Mother Fights For Justice After Husband Violated Restraining Order, Killed Their 3 Daughters
Jessica Lenahan said she would have handled the situation differently had she known police wouldn’t enforce the protective order.
Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from "Stalked: Someone's Watching")
A mother of four in Colorado had her life ripped apart in tragic circumstances after her estranged husband violated a permanent restraining order and kidnapped their daughters — and police told her there was little they could do.
In May 1999, Jessica Lenahan of Castle Rock was able to obtain the protective order against her emotionally abusive husband, Simon Gonzales, who was to stay at least 100 yards away from her and their children except during pre-scheduled visitations, NBC News reported, citing a 2018 documentary about the case, Home Truth.
The judge noted at the time that “physical or emotional harm would result” if Gonzales were not kept out of the family’s home, according to legal documents.
On June 22, 1999, Gonzales violated the protective order and abducted their three daughters — Rebecca, 10, Katheryn, 9, and Leslie, 7. For the next 10 hours, documents show, Lenahan phoned the Castle Rock Police Department and met nine times with officers, but they allegedly only did a superficial search for the children, saying there was little they could do and to call them if Gonzales failed to bring the children back.
Early the next morning, Gonzales showed up at the police station. He began shooting at officers, who returned fire and killed him. Inside Gonzales’ van, police discovered the bodies of his three daughters that he had killed sometime during the night.
Over the next decade, Lenahan, who is of Native American and Latino descent, embarked on a journey to try to change how police and the legal system deal with domestic violence situations — often with frustrating results, she said.
In 2004, years after she filed a lawsuit accusing Castle Rock police and three individual officers for not doing more to enforce her restraining order and help her, she took her fight to the Supreme Court.
In a 7-2 ruling against her, the court said the enforcement of a protective order wasn’t a constitutional right and police departments cannot be held legally responsible in cases such as hers.
Lenahan eventually sought justice elsewhere. In December 2005 she filed a case against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She asserted in the filing that police inaction and the Supreme Court decision violated her and her three deceased daughter’s human rights, which should have been protected under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.
“Had I known that the police would do nothing to locate Rebecca, Katheryn, and Leslie or enforce my restraining order, I would have taken the situation into my own hands by looking for my children with my family and friends,” Lenahan testified before the commission’s international board.
“I might have even bought a gun to protect us from Simon’s terror,” she continued. “Perhaps if I had taken these measures, I would have averted this tragedy. But then I might be imprisoned right now.”
She added, “That is the dilemma for abused women in the United States.”
In 2011, the Commission ruled in Lenahan’s favor and found the U.S. had committed human rights violations against her and the girls.
Despite having some resolution, Lenahan, now 56, and her surviving son, Jesse, who was 13 when he lost his sisters, continue to struggle with post-traumatic stress and the effects of the murders.
“The ripples go on far and wide,” Home Truth director Katia Maguire told NBC News, noting the pair aren’t as close as they once were. “Everyone is in a different place in their lives. Different family members need to step away to take care of themselves, and we thought that was a very powerful part in the story.”
Lenahan continues to fight the injustices she and other domestic abuse survivors must face every day.
For more on this story, stream this episode of Stalked: Someone’s Watching on discovery+.
If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence or abuse from a romantic partner, you can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, call 1.800.799.SAFE, or text START to 88788 for help. Advocates are available 24/7 to help callers talk through their situation and connect them with local resources. There is no charge to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.