(TEMPE, Ariz.) — Friends of an Arizona family that perished in a fiery murder-suicide said the father’s brain tumor may have led him to kill his family, something completely out of character for a man who was remembered as “one of the nicest guys.”
Tempe Police are remaining tight-lipped about the circumstances that led James Butwin, 47, to allegedly kill his wife, Yafit, 40; and three children Malissa, 16; Daniel, 14; and Matthew, 7.
Yael Ozair, 15, who was friends with Daniel and Malissa and knew the family, said she remembered hearing stories that the father was recently “speaking jibberish” and having trouble fighting a brain tumor.
“This whole thing is illness. I know it’s not God,” Ozair said. “The family is too good for this to be true.”
Butwin was battling a brain tumor and in the middle of a divorce that was putting the normal strain of a separation on the entire family.
“Daniel said, ‘It’s really hard at my house right now because my parents are getting a divorce and they’re always fighting,'” Ozair told ABC News.
The charred bodies were discovered on Saturday in a burnt SUV in the Arizona desert. The case gained national attention when Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu claimed the bodies were related to Mexican drug trafficking and used the case to criticize the Obama administration’s border-security actions.
Authorities found evidence inside the Butwin family’s home that leads them to believe it could be a murder-suicide, said Sgt. Jeff Glover of the Tempe Police Department. He declined to say what police found inside the home.
The family was reported missing by a friend who received a concerning note from James Butwin detailing how to run his real estate business.
Yafit Butwin filed for divorce on Sept. 22, 2011 and sought half of the couple’s assets, despite a reported prenuptial agreement.
Despite Yafit Butwin’s request that he leave the couple’s home, James Butwin continued to reside there until the family’s heartbreaking end.
More than 600 mourners packed Temple Emanuel, where Butwin was on the board, to participate in a Jewish service of grief on Wednesday.
Steven Gotfried, who was on the board with Butwin, said the rabbi addressed the common shock felt by the community.
“He said we were just in the beginning stages of shock and it will evolve and we will evolve together in the shock of this.”
Funerals will be held at a later date.
Friends said they are leaning on each other, trying to cope with losing what one neighbor called “an amazing family with so much heart.”
For Ozair, that means being with her tight-knit group of friends who went to school with Daniel and Malissa — and writing. She penned a eulogy for the family.
“They always say the good die young, but the words tie the tongue,” she wrote. “We wish we could have known, but it’s too late as it is shown.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News