WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — In hindsight, Rebecca Zahradka's friends and coworkers recognize the warning signs of domestic violence. Now, they are telling her story to help others before it is too late and to help Becky's little boy.
"We would like to tell Becky's story," said Melinda O'Rourke, a doctor at Northwest Eye Center and Essence Laser and Wellness in Wheat Ridge. "She was not a weak person at all. She was very strong, and that is why I think it is so shocking and devastating for all of us."
Becky Zahradka was the kind of coworker who would bake your favorite treat and surprise you with it. She was the receptionist who also filled countless other roles.
"A really hard worker. She's always the first one in the office, oftentimes the last one to leave," said Dr. Nolan Hathaway, who described Becky Zahradka as an advocate for patients. "She really made a difference in their care, and things turned out better because she was there."
More than anything, though, everyone knew that Becky Zahradka's world was her little boy, DJ.
"She was an awesome mom," said Trisha Goenetta, a friend and colleague of Becky Zahradka. "All she wanted is that little baby to be happy. She was constantly ordering things on Amazon for him: toys, clothes, little boots."
But her closest coworkers said they also knew about problems at home.
"The last few months she was pretty vocal about the alcohol abuse and emotional and mental abuse that she was going through with him," Goenetta said. "She would always try to like change the subject afterwards and be real happy afterwards."
Police records obtained by Denver7 say that "she was trying to leave, and she lived for her son."
"I honestly don't think that Becky realized the danger she was in," O'Rourke said.
On Oct. 9, Adams County deputies were called to Becky Zahradka's home. The arrest affidavit states that they found her inside with a gunshot wound to the head. Her husband, Ryan Zahradka, was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder.
In the arrest affidavit, Ryan Zahradka's family members told officers he has a "history of mental health conditions" and has been known to attack people.
While he told officers on scene that Becky Zahradka shot herself, his own family stated that they did not believe that was the case. His family told officers he claimed he had served Becky Zahradka with divorce papers.
Ryan Zahradka's brother, Rory Zahradka, told officers that Becky Zahradka told him that day that she "has been wanting to leave, but with Ryan going through therapy she feels like she is stuck between being there and being a good wife." Rory Zahradka told officers that he had "later received a text message... asking for him to take care of [DJ] if anything ever happens to her. Rory asked... if Ryan was still drinking and she responded with 'Yes'."
Becky Zahradka's friends, still in shock, are still looking for answers and trying to raise awareness about domestic violence.
"If there is any type of violence that they're talking to you about in their personal life, do something about it," said Goenetta, sobbing. "Call someone."
Hathaway said we often hear about "raising awareness" on issues.
"What does that actually mean? How does that change anything?" he said. "When you have a name and a face to go with and you actually have somebody, in her case, her son, who can actually benefit from some interaction, I think that is a tangible difference."
Their hope is that telling Becky Zahradka's story could help others and also help her son, DJ.
They have launched a GoFundMe and a trust in DJ's name to help pay for his expenses and maternal family legal fees.
"We're really doing this to honor Becky, but to also provide something for DJ," O'Rourke said. "I feel like now, now we're standing up for her."
Ryan Zahradka has a preliminary hearing in February.