With woman who cut baby from womb convicted, family tries to move forward

Salvador Gomez flashed a big smile and took off running down the path along the Columbia River.

"Me mira, me mira," the 2-year-old called out to his father, making sure he watched the toddler run.

Juan Campos Gomez could only grin as the miracle baby laughed with his older sister.

Two years and four months ago, Araceli Camacho Gomez was killed near that same site in Kennewick's Columbia Park and her baby cut from her womb.

On Thursday, Campos Gomez returned to a bench built in his wife's memory to reflect on the verdict this week that sent her killer to prison.

"It was just," Campos Gomez said of the trial, which lasted just over three weeks.

Phiengchai Sisouvanh Synhavong, 25, of Kennewick, was found guilty Tuesday of aggravated first-degree murder for the June 27, 2008, death of the 27-year-old Pasco mother.

Sisouvanh Synhavong had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but within six hours of deliberations, a Benton County Superior Court jury rejected her insanity claim. She will spend the rest of her life in prison.

"I'm glad it's over because we've been waiting for it," Campos Gomez said in Spanish through interpreter Ana Armijo. "But it really didn't change my life for the better. My wife is gone. The mother of my children is gone."

Campos Gomez attended much of the trial, where he had to hear graphic details of his wife's last moments as she was stabbed 47 times while fighting with her killer and pleading to go back to her home and back to her kids.

Salvador was without oxygen for an unknown amount of time until Sisouvanh Synhavong called 911 to say she had just given birth and her baby wasn't breathing.

They were rushed to Kennewick General Hospital, where doctors discovered Sisouvanh Synhavong hadn't been pregnant and Salvador's mother was missing. Camacho Gomez's body was found early June 28 in Columbia Park.

In addition to Salvador, Camacho Gomez left behind a now 4-year-old daughter, Brenda, and a now 13-year-old son, Juan Carlos, a sixth-grader who goes by Carlos.

Carlos and Brenda were with their mother when she was approached by Sisouvanh Synhavong at a bus stop in Pasco. Carlos helped translate because Sisouvanh Synhavong didn't speak Spanish, and Sisouvanh Synhavong made arrangements to meet Camacho Gomez later to give her some baby clothes.

On the first day of testimony, Carlos took the witness stand and testified about the last day he saw his mother alive. During the trial, Prosecutor Andy Miller called Carlos "courageous" and "strong" for telling the truth.

Campos Gomez said he was nervous for his son and surprised he did so well on the stand.

"His only thoughts are of playing around, and he was put in a position to be a witness to a horrendous crime," he said. "I was worried about him, about his health, about the stress it would cause him. But I knew it was necessary to have a verdict in our favor."

The family is doing "OK," but they are tired, nervous and stressed, said Campos Gomez.

The verdict hasn't given him any closure, he said, "because we still have the pain of such a big loss of our loved one."

Camacho Gomez took care of the house and children while her husband took seasonal jobs at area ranches and farms. Now Campos Gomez is left to be both mother and father to his children while also trying to find a way to provide for his family.

He does receive Social Security disability for Salvador, which helps, and he's tried to find work but has not been successful.

He had a job for a couple of months at Simplot, but even though he requested a regular shift, he was on-call and couldn't leave his children when he got called to work at midnight, Armijo explained.

Armijo, a court interpreter, reached out to the family after working with Campos Gomez in court once and attended court hearings and helps where she can in other ways.

He is trying to find a full-time job, but has no family here and "of course he has difficulties with trust and leaving his children with someone he doesn't know," Armijo said.

She said Campos Gomez wanted to thank the community and express his gratitude for its emotional support and donations.

"He wants them to know he used the money wisely," Armijo said. "He used it to help buy a house ... because he wanted to make sure his children would always have a roof over their heads."

It's a modest "fixer-upper," and he's working to turn the basement into two small one-bedroom apartments that he can rent out to help boost his monthly income.

"He's a very handy man," she said.

Armijo also helped get some help from a plumber and electrician -- more specialized areas that Campos Gomez can't do himself -- and he also needs to get windows for the place. It's a slow process because he's doing much of the work on his own, but it will help the family once it's completed, she said.

As for Salvador, it would be hard to know he had a traumatic birth if it had not made national headlines.

Born premature, Salvador spent the first weeks of his life at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane, and doctors said they wouldn't know what disabilities he would suffer.

While sitting at his newborn son's bedside in Spokane, Campos Gomez made a promise to the Virgin of Zapopa -- the town in Mexico where the family is born -- asking her to save his son. Armijo explained that it's a "very cultural Catholic tradition" to make a promise to any saint.

He promised that if she helped Salvador live, he wouldn't cut Salvador's hair until he could go to the statue of the Virgin of Zapopa, cut Salvador's hair and "offer his hair to the virgin as a kept promise."

Because of that promise, the toddler has long, dark straight hair, which was pulled back in a ponytail on Thursday.

Campos Gomez treats Salvador like he's a normal kid, and the boy runs, laughs and plays like a normal 2-year-old.

Salvador gets regular physical therapy for his muscles and has a small limp from his left leg, but "other than that, he's a joy to have around," Campos Gomez said.

Armijo said she hopes to help get some counseling scheduled for Campos Gomez and Carlos, and for now the family is trying to "just keep moving forward."

An account at American West Bank is still set up to receive donations under the name Gomez Benevolent Account.