Just after 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 12 — the same day police believe Dr. Roger Brumback and his wife were killed — someone tried to break into the home of Dr. Chhanda Bewtra, a colleague of Brumback in the Creighton pathology department.
Bewtra, who was not home at the time, said police have never told her whether they think the incident was related to Anthony Garcia, or to the slayings of the Brumbacks and the two 2008 killings in the home of Creighton pathologist Dr. William Hunter.
But like Brumback and Hunter, Bewtra played a part in the 2001 firing of Garcia from his Creighton pathology residency.
Bewtra also noted that on the day the Brumbacks died, Garcia visited a restaurant just a mile from her home near 84th and Pacific Streets. The time of his stop at the restaurant closely corresponded to when the alarm in her home sounded.
It's chilling for her to think that had she and her husband been home that day, it's possible that there could have been more killings with ties to Creighton's pathology department.
“I feel real fortunate we were not home,'' she said in an exclusive interview Monday. “Part of me doesn't want to believe it was him. But the coincidence is very strong.''
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer on Monday declined to comment on the possible break-in, citing the ongoing police investigation of Garcia.
Garcia, 40, is to make his initial court appearance on the charges in Douglas County Court this morning.
The possibility of a related break-in is the latest development in the case of Garcia, charged in the May murders of Roger and Mary Brumback and the March 2008 killings of 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and 57-year-old Shirlee Sherman.
Police have said the four killings were motivated by a simmering grudge Garcia held against Brumback and Hunter for his 2001 firing. Bewtra, who worked closely in the classroom with Garcia, said it's possible that the California native would have had similar feelings toward her.
“I would not be surprised if he bore a grudge against me, too,'' said Bewtra, a native of India who has been associated with Creighton for 40 years. “My evaluations of him were not kind, either.''
Garcia's firing was precipitated by an incident in which he was accused of attempting to sabotage another resident who was taking a high-stakes national certification exam. But Bewtra said that mean-spirited prank, for which she said Garcia showed no remorse, was more of a last straw.
His work in both the lab and classroom was inadequate, she said. And there were numerous incidents, both big and small, in which Garcia showed rude and insolent behavior, Bewtra said.
During classroom instruction, she recalled, Garcia would sometimes refuse to answer questions, saying he didn't feel like it.
One time when she told him to leave the class, he refused.
“I don't feel like going. I'll do what I want to do,'' she recalled him saying.
She documented such incidents, which contributed to Creighton's decision to dismiss Garcia.
As of earlier this year, Hunter, Brumback and Bewtra were the only current pathology faculty members who were on staff when Garcia was fired.
On May 12, Bewtra and her husband, also a Creighton teaching physician, had just finished a Mother's Day lunch. About 2:05 p.m., they received a cellphone call from their security company, alerting them to a possible break-in.
They were not far away at the time, driving near Children's Hospital. Without calling police, they went straight home, arriving just minutes later.
They found that the back door had been partially pulled open. Whoever had done it was gone, perhaps fleeing at the sound of the security alarm.
Nothing in the house appeared missing. So in the end the couple didn't report the incident to police.
Two days later, Bewtra was shocked to learn of the deaths of Brumback and his wife, their bodies discovered in their west Omaha home. Police would later determine from the clothes they were wearing that they'd likely been killed two days earlier, on Sunday.
But Bewtra and her husband at first didn't consider the possible link of the killings to their break-in. About a day later, she and her husband were talking with friends and mentioned the break-in. You've got to call the police, they were told.
Detectives and crime lab personnel came and looked for fingerprints and possible DNA.
Later, after authorities were apparently onto Garcia as a suspect, detectives interviewed Bewtra.
“I do remember him,'' she told them. “He gave me lots of trouble.''
After that, she heard nothing — until last Monday. That's when police announced that they had arrested Garcia in four killings linked to Creighton's pathology department.
Like others at Creighton, Bewtra still was surprised to learn that the suspect was Garcia. She never thought of him as violent, angry or dangerous. And it had been so long. In the years since the 2008 killings, she and others in the department had speculated about potential suspects from Creighton but always considered only those who had been in the department more recently. Like most faculty members, Bewtra was never interviewed in the wake of the 2008 killings.
The most chilling moment for Bewtra came when she read a timeline in The World-Herald tracking Garcia's movements on the Sunday the Brumbacks died. She saw that Garcia used a credit card at 2:26 p.m. that day at the Wingstop near 72nd and Pacific Streets — proof he had been in her neighborhood around the time of the attempted break-in.
“That was absolutely incredible,'' she said. “That was a very close shave.''
She is relieved she wasn't home that day. If she had been, she thinks she probably would have recognized her former student and welcomed him into her home.
Bewtra said she's thankful for the efforts of the Omaha police in solving the baffling pathology department killings.
“We were worried (the Brumbacks) would become another cold case like the Hunters,'' she said. “But the police really moved fast. They did exemplary work.''
World-Herald staff writer Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.