Woman shot by cousin's husband was domestic violence victims advocate

Catalina Torres, a mother of two who was shot and killed Saturday along with Martinez police Sgt. Paul Starzyk, had been attempting to help her cousin escape from an abusive relationship, the director of a local domestic violence program said Monday.

Torres, 44, was a former victim of domestic violence and had sought help from STAND! Against Domestic Violence to escape from her own abusive relationship, said Gloria Sandoval, executive director of the group.

She graduated from the women's shelter and transitional housing program in 1999, and went on to earn two bachelor's degrees and become a math teacher at Diablo Valley College.

She also became an advocate for victims of domestic violence and had been volunteering with STAND! since 2000, often speaking about her own experiences with abuse and with getting help.

“She was a wonderful mother to her children and a very strong person,” Sandoval said. 

Torres had two young adult sons, according to the organization.

“We always say that domestic violence doesn't only impact the individual family. It impacts the entire community. This horrible tragedy is an example of that,” Sandoval said.

The incident began at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Martinez police received a call from a woman at Elegant Hair Design on Pacheco Boulevard reporting that her husband was trying to kill her, Contra Costa County sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said.

Officers responded to the call and located the husband, 49-year-old Felix Sandoval Jr., in an apartment behind the beauty salon.

Torres, three children and a second woman were inside the apartment with Felix Sandoval, Lee said.

Felix Sandoval, who is not related to Gloria Sandoval, reportedly shot Torres and Starzyk before police shot and killed him, police said.

The officers reportedly knew there were women and children inside the apartment and were attempting to save them when Starzyk, a 12-year-veteran of the Martinez Police Department, was shot.

Flags at the state Capitol are flying at half-staff today to honor Starzyk, who left behind a wife and three small children.

“The Martinez Police Department is a small police department. It is a place where everyone knows each other. It is a tough time for them,” Lee said.

“The people of California are forever indebted to Paul's tireless service and we will never forget his selfless dedication to public safety,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement.

“Maria and I send our thoughts and prayers to Paul's family, friends and fellow officers as they mourn this tremendous loss,”
Schwarzenegger said.

STAND! Against Domestic Violence's crisis line is (888) 215-5555.

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