Mayra Perez called her mother Tuesday night to get a recipe for gorditas. She also quarreled with her husband, who left for the night to cool off.
By early morning, Perez and two of her children were dead, a third was in critical condition and her relatives were struggling to understand what happened in the family's northeast Denver home.
"I got a phone call at 7 a.m.," said Perez's sister, Liliana Castro.
It was her sister's husband, Ricky Perez, who told her he had found the bodies when he returned home Wednesday morning.
"He just told me he needed to tell me something, but he didn't know how to say it," Castro said. "I asked him, 'What happened?' He's like, 'I don't know, I don't know.' He couldn't talk. He just hung up."
Denver police officers were called to the home in the 4900 block of Pearl Street at 6:55 a.m. for reports of a shooting. Officials did not identify the people whom officers found dead inside, but relatives said they were Perez, 22; her daughter, Nevaeh Morales, 6; and son, Erick Perez, 2.
A third child, Isabel Perez, 3, underwent surgery at Denver Health Medical Center, where police Cmdr. Ronald Saunier said she was in "extremely critical condition."
Ricky Perez and other relatives were with her at the hospital Wednesday night, Castro said.
Police had made no arrests and had "no reason to suspect a killer is on the loose," police spokesman Lt. Matt Murray said earlier in the day.
"At this time, we're not looking for any suspects," Saunier said later Wednesday. He would not elaborate, but said, "We have some questions we still need to answer. ... We still need to complete the investigation."
By Wednesday evening, Saunier said detectives planned to search the house, and investigators from the Denver Medical Examiner's Office had arrived to help piece together what happened.
"It was a horrific scene," Saunier said. "Anytime you have kids involved, it's horrible. It plays on the heartstrings of anyone involved."
Relatives, too, were at a loss. Irene Nuñez, Mayra Perez's cousin, said detectives had notified the family but had not told them much.
Speaking from Perez's mother's house in Canutillo, Texas, Nuñez said her cousin was a doting mother. The couple moved to Denver a little more than a year ago for Ricky Perez's job in construction.
"I think they were having arguments," she said. "We just know they had been having problems."
But Perez seemed OK on Tuesday, when she called her mother for recipes. The children seemed happy, too. Nevaeh had just started school. Neighbors said they often saw the kids riding their bikes and walking their dog. Footage from television news helicopters showed a yard littered with toys.
"They were friendly; we didn't hear them fighting," said Joann Cobb, who lives nearby. She said the family moved in about three months ago. "I'm in such a shock. They were just a happy little family."
Another neighbor, Rosalinda Bustillos, said her father-in-law heard a couple of gunshots at about 5 a.m.
"It's just scary because we all know each other around here, and we've been here several years," Bustillos said. "This has never happened around here, and I never thought it would."
Saunier said he had no indication that officers had been called to the house before for problems.
About 60 people gathered Wednesday night in Argo Park, a few blocks from the family's home, as a cold rain fell on grief-stricken faces. Most were members of Providence Bible Church. Others lived in the neighborhood, but none said they knew the family directly.
"I can't even imagine what the father is feeling," said pastor Pepe Rojas. "He was working, and this terrible tragedy happened in his home."
Sadie Gurman: 303-954-1661. firstname.lastname@example.org
Denver Post staff writers Kirk Mitchell , Kieran Nicholson and Joey Bunch contributed to this report.