Updated, 2 p.m., with comment from police
The death of a woman found dead after an Oak Forest fire Tuesday has been ruled a strangulation homicide, an autopsy revealed Wednesday.
Erica Rodriguez, 40, was found dead inside the home from strangulation, not from injuries sustained in the fire, according to Oak Forest Police Chief Greg Anderson.
Her husband Martin Rodriguez, 48, was found with his throat cut outside the home, Anderson said, and was transported to South Suburban Hospital, and later transferred to Advocate Christ Medical Center. He remained in critical condition as of Tuesday evening.
“We will continue the investigation and will be relentless until we bring the responsible party to justice," said Oak Forest Police Chief Greg Anderson. "We are committed to bring all investigative resources together to solve this homicide. The entire family of Erica Rodriguez needs to know who could have committed such an act and who is responsible.”
Anderson added that speculation that the fire is related to two escaped bank robbers is so far unsubstantiated.
"It's still under investigation, I can tell you that all leads are being followed," he said. "We're checking every possible angle we can. It's inappropriate for me to say that this is attached to those guys or not at this point, because the investigation is still in its infancy, so I'm really kind of barred from talking about that."
Due to the severity of his injuries, police have not been able to speak with Martin Rodriguez, Anderson told reporters Wednesday.
Officers are treating the scene as a crime scene, Anderson said, adding that it is standard operating procedure. The Illinois State Fire Marshal and South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force are investigating as a foul play situation.
The couple's three children—a daughter aged 17, son aged 15, and daughter aged 6—were in school at the time of the fire.
"Right now our entire family is trying to come to terms with this devastating news and we truly appreciate all the prayers and word of encouragement," said Steve Johnson, a cousin of Erica Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was a devoted hospice nurse and a mother to three children, ages 17, 15, and 6.
"Anybody she was around, loved her," Johnson said. "She was one of those upbeat type of people who got along with everybody. Very outgoing."
Neighbor Lydia Ponzcak witnessed both victims being removed from the fire. Martin Rodriguez was bloodied in the chest area, she observed.
"It looked to me like he had streaks of blood on his chest," she said.
Ponczak called the couple "absolutely great neighbors," very friendly, who would always wave.
"They were very nice people, as far as we could tell," she said. "We never heard any arguments coming from there or any noise. Kids were well-behaved, never trouble in the neighborhood. They lived there about 8 years."
"I can't imagine leaving your home to go to school and when you come home, there's no home, no family there," said neighbor Lydia Ponczak. "One of your parents is dead and the other one is clinging to life."
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