Family offers reward in Covington home invasion

The Zelaya family left Honduras nearly a year ago to put down roots in Covington’s River Oaks subdivision because they wanted to escape the danger and crime that forced them to live in a fenced compound in their native country.

“As we say back home, a golden cage is still a cage,’’ Mario Zelaya said Friday.

But the family found that crime can also strike in their adopted country. They have returned to Honduras, leaving empty their Covington house following a terrifying home invasion earlier this month by two masked men. Zelaya,’s wife, Susana Zelaya, the couple’s oldest son and three adult male family members were home on the morning of May 4 when the break-in occurred. They were held hostage by the intruders for about three hours.

“My son is only 9 years old,’’ Zelaya said in a voice choked with emotion. “He and my wife didn’t deserve this. You guys are cowards, you had to tie up a 9-year-old. He’s having nightmares; my wife wakes up every single morning trembling.’’

Zelaya, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain and Crimestoppers CEO Darlene Cusanza announced a $40,000 reward Friday for information leading to an indictment in the case.

Zelaya, an orthopedic surgeon, provided the money for the award, which also included donations from family and friends.

“My wife told me, ‘You have to go. I don’t want this to happen to other families,’ ’’ he said.

Strain said that they believe the family was targeted and that the aggravated burglary was not random.

Authorities would not say whether the burglars were armed. They never revealed their faces, the Sheriff’s Office said, and they spoke in English and would not allow the occupants of the house to converse in Spanish.

Strain said that they are hopeful that someone may have seen the burglars when they dumped Zelaya’s late-model Mercedes in Pearl River. Other leads might develop about items that were stolen, which included some jewelry items described as unique, he said. The burglars also took a small amount of cash and multiple firearms.

Cusanza said that the reward is the largest ever offered in St. Tammany Parish.

Zelaya said that his family is trying to cope with the aftermath. His son, whose teacher described him as the “joy of the classroom,’’ is now nervous and can’t tolerate loud noises. When his parents had to leave their home in Honduras for a dinner, the 9-year-old armed himself with an aluminum baseball bat and said he had to protect his younger brothers.

“This has messed up our minds, our hearts,’’ Zelaya said.

Crime Stoppers can be contacted by calling (504) 822-1111. Callers can remain anonymous.