The Port Arthur News
Gut wrenching fear mingled with visions of violent murders is still commonplace when speaking of Port Arthur serial killer Elroy Chester.
John Avery was fire captain on duty in District 6 and one of the first to reach the scene of a medical call on Ashland Drive on Feb. 6, 1998. What he experienced that night will forever haunt his dreams.
“There was a police officer out in the driveway hysterical, waving at us toward the side door of the house where the kitchen was. I ran off toward the truck and grabbed the medical bag,” Avery said, his voice growing quiet. “We found Willie (Ryman) laying face down. We didn’t know it was him until we rolled him over.”
Willie Ryman III was a long-time friend and fellow firefighter who had went to the home to check on his two teenaged nieces. Ryman’s appearance at the home interrupted Chester as he was sexually assaulting the Duct tape bound girls. The firefighter was shot and his body dragged to the kitchen before he fled the scene.
Avery and his team began working on Ryman doing chest compressions in an attempt to save his life. Ryman’s sister Kim Deleon, also a firefighter, was across town at Station 2 and responded when she recognized the address.
“She got there as we were wheeling him out on a stretcher. By that time we knew we were not going to get him back,” he said.
Firefighters respond to numerous calls and those are important but in this case, responding to a scene and find a friend whom you work with, eaten at their home and spent of-time with, was not easy.
“I still have nightmares occasionally about finding him on the floor and holding him while I tried to save him,” he said.
The chaotic scene still plays in Avery’s mind. Police on the scene, the girls bound and sexually assaulted, Ryman shot. Chester also tried to attack Ryman’s girlfriend who had been sitting in a truck in the driveway.
Ryman is described as an easy going guy with an engaging personality and as a fearless firefighter — “the kind of guy who would stay at a fire scene and go places where other people wouldn’t go.”
Chester’s bloody rampage in the Pear Ridge area of the city lasted only six months but forever changed the lives of many. His crimes left five people dead and included the sexual assault of three people under the age of 17 as well as shooting and injuring several others.
Chester is scheduled for execution for the murder of Ryman at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12.
Larry Richard, now fire chief, was a captain at station 5 and heard the call on the radio. He described Ryman as a “firefighter’s firefighter.”
“He was big and strong and just a firefighter’s firefighter,” Richard said. “If you were in trouble he was the one you wanted to come and get you.”
Richard plans to attend Chester’s execution on Wednesday, he said.
“I just want closure for the family,” he said. “This has gone on long enough.”
Chester’s violent and murderous actions left a blanket of fear over the city and residents were on edge. A neighborhood watch was formed in response to the Sept. 20, 1997 home invasion robbery/murder of 78-year-old John Henry Sepeda in the 3700 block of Seventh Avenue, Henry Barbosa said. Sepeda was Chester’s first homicide victim.
“People were scared and our group grew out of necessity,” Barbosa said. “At one point membership rose to about 174 members, now we have less than 20.”
In November 1979, more than 400 people gathered at a Pear Ridge Integrated Community Oriented Policing unit meeting held at Tyrrell Elementary School to discuss the issue, according to an archive story.
Citizen patrols soon began and cell phones were purchased.
“We would ride together, three to four at a time and have four or five cars out at once time,” he said.
Barbosa, who is still an active member of the Pear Ridge Neighborhood Watch group, is more leery of his surroundings than he was 15 years ago.
‘It (murders) has changed my outlook when I see someone in my neighborhood,” he said. “I used to give people the benefit of the doubt but I’ve had to change my way of thinking.”