AURORA, Colo. — It was an early afternoon several days before Christmas. Cristina Wanda Sears met her 22-year-old son at the Frontier Club to down several drinks.
When they finished, Sears drove her son, Josh, to an appointment with his probation officer. When she dropped him off, Josh spotted a black handgun tucked in her purse.
Then, a short time later, he received a phone call.
“I did something bad,” Sears, 44, informed him, according to testimony in an affidavit from the Aurora Police Department.
They agreed to meet at the Sand Creek Lounge, a 15-minute drive away from the home where police say Sears had just gunned down her 75-year-old stepmother, Eleanor J. Sears, and seriously wounded her 49-year-old stepsister, Joy L. Pigon, over a years-long dispute about the estate of Cristina Sears’ late father.
Officers arrested Cristina Sears at the Lounge shortly before 5 p.m., although it was unclear whether her son was with her.
Cristina Sears — who has no prior arrest record, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation — is being held without bond at the Adams County Jail after the Dec. 22 incident, charged with 11 criminal counts, including first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault.
She was scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. today for a preliminary hearing, but it was postponed until Feb. 21 at the request of her public defender, Stefanie Gaffigan, who declined to comment on the case. Cristina Sears has refused an interview request through a jail deputy.
The afternoon of Dec. 22, Cristina Sears’ other son, Kenneth R. Richey, his fiancee, Shannon L. Bowen, and Pigon were in a room next to the kitchen when Richey said he heard a “pop,” according to the affidavit.
Aurora emergency dispatchers received an initial call around 3:30 p.m. reporting an armed person inside Eleanor Sears’ home. Then, another emergency call came: two people had been shot.
Two officers arrived to find Eleanor Sears and her daughter in their kitchen suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, the affidavit said. Richey, who told police that he witnessed the shootings, saw Cristina Sears empty the rest of the gun’s clip at a TV, place the gun on the floor near the front door, and flee.
Both victims were rushed to the University of Colorado hospital, where a doctor pronounced Eleanor Sears dead about an hour after the original emergency call. Multiple attempts to ascertain the current condition of Pigon were unsuccessful.
Two children — ages 3 and 6 — were also inside the home at the time, but in a separate room and not harmed physically. In a news release, police said the children were under the care of one of the victims, a statement consistent with neighbors’ accounts that Eleanor Sears and Pigon often cared for the children of families they were close to. Police declined to say to whom the two children belonged.
Five people — Richey, Bowen, Eleanor Sears, Pigon, and Pigon’s husband, David — shared the home.
The shootings were the violent conclusion to an acrimonious dispute years in the making, according to Richey’s account in the affidavit. Cristina Sears’ apparent hatred for Eleanor Sears stemmed from her belief that Eleanor had not given her “what she was entitled to” after Cristina’s father died.
Efforts to contact Richey and Josh Sears, Cristina Sears’ son, were not successful. A phone number listed for Eleanor Sears’ home in Aurora was disconnected.
On a recent evening, Christmas decorations still sat in the small front yard of the now-darkened two-story home. A four-foot plastic snowman flashed brightly — on one second, off the next — and cold, blue holiday lights lined a window frame, under which sat the statue of angel, her hands and face angled toward the sky. Knocks on the front door went unanswered.
Neighbors recalled Eleanor Sears as an exceptionally caring and kind woman, who treated neighborhood kids just as her own. During Christmas, Sears and Pigon would hand-craft stockings, blankets and scarves for friends and neighbors.
“Joy’s name fits her perfectly,” said Judy Churchill, 69, a neighbor across the street. “She has the joy of the Lord in her, and her mom’s the same way.
“They were right there for me (when I first moved here). It’s just totally unbelievable. These two people didn’t deserve this.”
This article appeared only in the online version of The Denver Post.