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Mom says stress led to daughter's strangulation
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Mom says stress led to daughter's strangulation

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ELKO – An Elko mother strangled her adult daughter after several months of stress while being her primary caregiver, according to court documents.

Judith I. Zavala, 61, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old April Heather Zavala.

Police were called to their Elko residence at about 7:30 p.m. June 14 on a report of an unassisted death.

That Sunday, Judith’s husband went fishing with his son, leaving the two alone at the residence. At about 3 p.m., a struggle ensued between the mother and daughter as Judith attempted to get April out of bed and dress her before eating.

Judith told officers at the scene that her daughter stopped breathing and fell to the floor. But she said she did not know how to administer CPR, did not seek help from neighbors, and did not call 911.

“I panicked,” she said.

After Judith’s husband returned home at around 7 p.m., he reported the death to his son, who arrived at the residence and called 911.

Washoe County Medical Examiner’s office in Reno conducted an autopsy and determined the cause of death was strangulation.

Judith told police that her daughter was autistic from the age of 3, which she diagnosed by conducting her own research.

April was a high-functioning autistic, Judith explained, but in the last several months her behavior changed due to “a chemical shift in her brain” and she began having “fits and outbursts.”

April reportedly became unmanageable and would not communicate, prompting Judith to begin caring for her daughter 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Judith said her daughter had not visited a doctor in several years and was not under the care of any physician for autism. She told police her daughter was “otherwise healthy,” but she gave her melatonin drops to calm her down and help her sleep.

Upon further questioning by police detectives a day later, Judith said she was “exhausted and overwhelmed” that afternoon as she tried to get April out of bed.

April became “agitated” and refused her mother’s help, insisting on dressing herself. At that moment, Judith said she “snapped” and strangled her daughter with her hands until she stopped breathing.

Afterward, Judith said she was “in shock” and “could not believe what she had done.” She finished dressing April and placed her in bed, lying down next to her daughter until her husband came home that evening.

Judith was arrested by Elko police and booked into the Elko County Jail without bail.

A preliminary hearing in Elko Justice Court is set for July 23.

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