FROM THE ARCHIVES: Suspects in yogurt shop killings detained in Mexico

·4 min read

Editor's note: This story was originally published Oct. 23, 1992.

It took 10 months for the shock to fade, for the parents of the four girls killed in the yogurt shop to be able to face their grief.

Slowly, they came to grips with the fact that their children will never again fill their lives with talk of country music, clothes and livestock shows.

On Thursday, their lives were rattled again when they received news that a man had confessed to murdering Jennifer Harbison, 17; her sister Sarah 15; Eliza Thomas, 17; and Amy Ayers, 13.

The four were shot in the head Dec. 6, 1991, at I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! at 2949 W. Anderson Lane. On Thursday, Mexican police said Porfirio Villa Saavedra confessed to the crime. He and Alberto Jimenez Cortez, who police said was an accomplice in the crime, are being held in Mexico.

Barbara Suraci, mother of the Harbisons, watched on local broadcasts as the two suspects were brought before reporters.

"I just got the chills when they said he's been charged with murder," she said. "I've been sick to my stomach all day. You want to feel good about it, but it brings all the reality back.

"I'm not ready for murder yet. I'm still juggling grief."

Surrounded at her home by co-workers, family and friends of her daughters, Suraci tearfully embraced memories of her daughters when their pictures were shown on televison. Her husband, Frank Suraci, sat behind her on the arm of a couch.

"I just love that picture of the girls kissing those lambs," Barbara Suraci said when the television showed picturs of the Harbison girls at a livestock show.

Austin police had told the families on Wednesday that there were developments in the case. But Amy Ayers' parents said they were reluctant to accept the news coming out of Mexico on Thursday until Austin police confirmed reports that Villa Saavedra had confessed.

"It would be nice if it is him so we could let go of the drudgery of waking up and wondering if this will be the day we'll find out who killed our girls," said Amy's mother, Pam Ayers.

"There's kind of a numbness right now that today may be the day we'll know. Until Sgt. (John) Jones (lead investigator in the case) tells me it's real, I won't let the numbness settle back in," she said.

After talking to Jones, the next person the Ayers want to look in the face is Villa Saavedra.

"I want to know why," said Amy's father, Bob Ayers. "You're talking a lot of innocence here with four young girls. I can't believe someone would do this to them. Before, it had just been pictures on television. Now it's a reality.

"The end may be near, but it'll never be over."

Eliza Thomas' parents declined comment. Relatives of her father, James Thomas, said he did not want to talk about the case until police confirmed Villa Saavedra's confession. Eliza's mother, Maria Thomas, said she was not ready to talk about Thursday's developments.

The Ayers and Suracis praised the dedication of Austin investigators and their cooperation with Mexican authorities.

Austin investigators went to Mexico City last week to give authorities there information about Cortez, Villa Saavedra and Ricardo A. Hernandez, who remains at large.

The three have been indicted by a Travis County grand jury in a November 1991 abduction and sexual assault of an Austin woman. Investigators also sought to question the men in the yogurt shop slayings because Cortez resembled a man seen outside the store the night of the murders.

"My hat's off to the Mexican authorities and to the Austin Police Department. We're in foreign territory now and we have to respect their ways," Bob Ayers said. "This is a living example that we're all in this together. Crime happens every day all around the world. It can happen to anyone anywhere."

Both families said they feel satisfied that the men will be tried in Mexico. They will consider traveling there to learn more about the case.

But Suraci said she is not sure that knowing why her girls were killed will make a difference.

"I don't know if I'd ever have the guts to ask him why he did it," she said. "Not that it matters now. The girls are gone. It's much harder than I expected."

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: FROM THE ARCHIVES: Victims' families shaken after yogurt shop arrests

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