Caitlin Wolpinek

Shooting death is not cut and dry

March 17, 2010

MICHIGAN CITY — After more than a full day of questioning, La Porte County authorities released from custody the boyfriend of Caitlin Wolpinek, 19, who was found dead of a gunshot wound Sunday in her Woodland Crossings apartment.

Despite the statements of several people who say her boyfriend told them he shot her, authorities on Tuesday were still trying to piece together what led to the shooting, and they had not gathered enough evidence to decide whether to seek charges in the case. Wolpinek’s relationship with her boyfriend was stormy, hindering the ability of police to pin blame for her fatal shooting, said John Boyd, La Porte County Police Chief of Detectives.

“This case has many layers,” Boyd said. “At no time did we ever say it was a homicide. This is a death investigation. We have to get a clearer picture of what transpired.”

But no one close to Wolpinek was notified of his release on Monday, so when he showed up on Brian and Samantha Pacius’ doorstep Tuesday morning in Chicago, they said they were shocked.

“He came here looking for my daughter,” said Brian Pacius. Jessica Pacius, 19, was one of Wolpinek’s best friends, he said. “I don’t know what he wanted. And after he told everyone he knows here that he shot Caitlin, I feel like my daughter could be in danger. She always told her to leave him.”

Police have not released her boyfriend’s name because he has not been charged, but the Paciuses identified him as Jeffery Maldonado, 22.

“They’ve been together for so long, and nothing could convince that girl to leave Jeffery. Nothing,” Samantha Pacius said.

Police about 9 a.m. Sunday were called to the couple’s apartment at 328 Woods Edge Drive in Woodland Crossing, which is just outside the city limits on U.S. 20 just east of Woodland Avenue. The 911 center received a call from a man who said he shot his girlfriend in the neck, according to police.

Caitlin led a troubled life because she didn’t have much family support, Samantha Pacius said. Her mother died of a drug overdose when she was 3 years old, she said. She then lost her father a few years ago. He was an alcoholic. Her closest relative, her brother, Tyler Wolpinek, lives in Fort Hood, Texas.

“She was a wild little girl, but there was a reason. There was no one there to help her,” Pacius said.

Wolpinek had a chance to live with her aunt in a nice home in Oak Lawn, Ill., and attend a private school, Pacius said, but she dropped out after she met Maldonado and started participating in his “wannabe gangbanger” lifestyle. At her wit’s end, Pacius said, her aunt made her leave the house, and that’s when Wolpinek moved in with them.

“It was only a few months, then she got an apartment with Jessica. When we heard Jeffery wanted to move her to Indiana, we offered to help with the apartment to keep her here but she just wouldn’t listen,” she said. “That was the ultimate act of control for him, taking her away from her family and friends.”

Maldonado had always been controlling and abusive toward Caitlin, Pacius said, but sometimes Wolpinek “gave it right back.”

“All accounts are they loved each other but it was a volatile relationship. It was volatile on both ends. That’s what’s making it difficult for us in this case,” Boyd said.

Wolpinek, a server at Applebee’s in Michigan City, died from a single gunshot to the neck, said La Porte County Coroner John Sullivan.

It wasn’t the first time police had been called to the residence. Officers responded in November to reports of gunfire in the home, but no charges resulted from that incident.

Maldonado has been cooperative with investigators, but there has been no confession to a crime, Boyd said.

“We can’t just leap to the assumption that because she’s dead, he’s responsible,” he said. “We know in speaking with family members that Caitlin would want us to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Investigators hope the results of a forensic examination scheduled Tuesday afternoon could shed further light. Undisclosed evidence is also being turned in for analysis to help clear up the uncertainty.

Sullivan said the autopsy can determine things like how close the victim was to the gun when it was fired and if there were signs of a physical struggle.

Boyd said he hopes some results arise from the autopsy right away but it might take several days before all of the findings of the forensic examination come in.

“We want to let the evidence speak for itself,” Boyd said.

But those who loved Caitlin want justice.

“She did not deserve to die battered and abused,” Brian Pacius said. “It doesn’t seem like anyone is doing anything about it.”


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