Village Hill murder-suicide investigation continues under domestic violence law

  • A memorial at the McDonald’s on King Street in Northampton dedicated to Karina Nieves, the 24-year-old city resident whose partner shot her and himself to death on Jan. 3. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2019 12:08:06 AM

NORTHAMPTON — On the counter at the McDonald’s on King Street sits a small vase of roses, a framed picture of a young woman against a backdrop of heavenly clouds propped against it.

“Fly high Karina,” the memorial reads in Spanish. “You will always live on in our hearts.”

Few details have emerged since Jan. 3, when prosecutors say Karina Nieves, 24, was shot dead by her partner before he turned the gun on himself in their Village Hill apartment.

The Northwest District Attorney’s Office continues to investigate the killing of Nieves at the hands of her partner, 26-year-old Nelson Cardona. The two were in a long-term relationship and had three children together, all of whom are now with family, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Beyond basic details, authorities have released very little information.

“She was very quiet, very sweet,” said Addy Ramos, 21, who hired Nieves to work at McDonald’s back in November.

Law enforcement officials are considering the murder-suicide a case of domestic violence and investigating it as such. Ramos confirmed that Nieves had told a co-worker that Cardona abused her at home, and said that Cardona used to come into McDonald’s often and harass Nieves.

“Work was her happy place,” Ramos said. “It was her escape from everything.”

Nieves and her family came from Puerto Rico, and both Nieves and Cardona have been laid to rest back on the island, according to their death certificates.

The Gazette’s efforts to reach Nieves’ family, both in Puerto Rico and in Massachusetts, were unsuccessful.

Often in a suspected murder-suicide case, the investigation of the murder usually ends after police determine that the perpetrator of the killing is dead. However, when domestic violence is suspected, that is not the case in Massachusetts.

“In cases involving domestic violence, where all too often we see murder-suicides occurring, the investigation continues beyond merely identifying and confirming the identity of the perpetrator,” Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Suhl wrote to the Gazette. “In these cases, we continue the investigation in an attempt to understand the causes of the murder-suicide and the circumstances surrounding it so that we can utilize this information to prevent future domestic violence fatalities.”

Suhl is the chief of the DA’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit. She said that after the sweeping domestic violence act signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014, the state created a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team that, with the help of local units like hers, reviews cases involving domestic violence fatalities — primarily murder-suicides.

The idea of reviewing those fatalities, Suhl said, is to better understand their causes, and to recommend possible changes in law, policy and practice to the governor and lawmakers.

“Our office had the privilege of participating in such a review just two months ago, in November 2018,” Suhl said. “Our office is committed to continuing the important work of protecting domestic violence victims, and conducting additional investigation and review of domestic violence fatalities in our district is one way in which we work to strengthen our prevention work in this field.”

Some of the state’s work combating domestic violence has been affected by the federal government shutdown that has dragged on for more than a month.

Marianne Winters, the executive director at the local anti-domestic violence nonprofit Safe Passage, sits on the state’s high-risk assessment team that seeks to identify people likely to commit domestic violence and prevent them from doing so. Much of that work is federally funded, she said, meaning that the people doing that work are going unpaid.

Safe Passage continues to help those in the community impacted by domestic violence, however. Winters said the organization can connect anyone to a counselor and advocate to talk about how domestic violence is affecting them or those around them.

“You don’t have to have any particular type of incident, even if you have questions,” Winters said. “Even if something feels unhealthy or you feel uncomfortable, you can call Safe Passage, you can call local organizations across the region, just to talk to somebody to get help clarifying that.”

Winters said there are many forms of domestic violence, and that sometimes it’s hard for those experiencing domestic violence to discern “reality from what the perpetrator is hoping you’ll begin to believe.” But the bottom line is that an abuser is acting on a goal of controlling — and maintaining control over — a victim.

When someone is killed, the effect is felt not only in that person’s family, but also in the community. Winters said it is normal for an incident like Nieves’ death to cause feelings of fear and anxiety in others.

“We’re here to help,” she said.

At McDonald’s in Northampton, Nieves’ former general manager Ramos said the impact of Nieves’ death has hit the staff hard.

“It’s just crazy knowing you could see someone one day, and the next day they’re gone,” Ramos said.

Community resources

The following are local organizations working to help those experiencing domestic violence:

Safe Passage
76 Carlon Dr., Northampton
24/7 hotline: 413-586-5066
Toll-free: 888-345-5285

479 Main St., Greenfield
24/7 hotline: 413-772-0806

208 Race St., Holyoke
24/7 hotline: 413-536-1628
Toll-free: 877-536-1628

YWCA of Western Mass.
1 Clough St., Springfield
24/7 hotline: 413-733-7100
Toll-free: 800-796-8711

Dusty Christensen can be reached at


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