August 20, 2013 Updated: August 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm
DENVER — Federal housing officials are condemning a decision by the Denver Housing Authority to evict the relatives of a mother killed by a rampaging gunman three days after her slaying, saying there is room for compassion in federal law.
Housing and Urban Development spokesman Jerry Brown said Tuesday his agency hopes Denver will reconsider after the victim's mother and autistic son were locked out of their subsidized housing. The personal property of 47-year-old Sandra Roskilly was also seized and turned over to a public administrator.
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," he said. Brown said his agency is reviewing the case to see what steps can be taken to help the family, including finding them another place to live.
The Denver Housing Authority said it was forced to evict 70-year-old Doris Kessler under federal law because Roskilly was the head of the household.
Police said 31-year-old Daniel Abeyta killed Roskilly and shot a second woman in her leg on Friday. Abeyta is hospitalized and facing a first-degree murder charge.
The Denver Housing Authority was apologetic about Monday's eviction and issued a statement to KMGH-TV saying they had no choice.
"Under federal policies and regulations, once the head of household is no longer with us, a live-in aide no longer has rights to that unit. We understand the family is under duress, but we will be locking the unit because they have no legal rights. We know this is a very tragic situation and offer our condolences," the agency said.
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 Monday to the public administrator, a private organization that determines disposition of assets when there is no will.
"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 being kept in a facility in Pueblo but friends say he often visited his mother.
Roskilly's brother, Dennis Campbell, says his mother and nephew were given the boot by the city after 20 years. Kessler had moved in a decade ago.
"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.
Daniel Markin has been friends with Roskilly for 30 years. He said he still has a lot of questions, including how his friend wound up in a gunman's sights.
Markin said Abeyta was upset his neighbor's rose bushes were growing onto his property.