Victims Identified In Highway Shooting

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A 28-year-old man fatally shot his 14-year-old girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself on Highway 87 south of Payson, Sunday, Feb. 12.

According to a Gila County Sheriff's Office statement, the man, Mario Franco Benitz, an undocumented worker from Mexico was distraught over the pending breakup of his relationship.

Benitz had lied to the girl and her parents about his age.

"He was living with them under the agreement (that) he was only 17 years old," the statement reported. "Last week, they found out he was 28 so they told him to leave."

The girl's father last saw his daughter alive Sunday.

"Evidence shows Mario had consumed a large quantity of alcohol Sunday. (Benitz's) brother indicated that he was a very jealous person and the depression over the pending breakup and the alcohol consumption played heavily on the issue," according to the statement.

On Feb. 12, GCSO deputies and a Department of Public Safety officer pulled over a truck as it reportedly swerved on Highway 87 near Deer Creek Village south of Payson. As the officers approached the vehicle, a woman, soiled with blood, stumbled out of the passenger side. Moments later, Benitz shot himself with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.

"He put (the gun) above his right ear," said GCSO Detective Brian Havey. "(The bullet) went up and out."

The girl died of a pistol wound to her neck.

Benitz, investigators believe, planned the suicide-murder in advance.

"He told his brother that he was going to get away for a couple of days," Havey said. "He had called his employer and told him he wouldn't be in Monday."

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