Phoenix-area Jews shocked, grieving over apparent murder-suicide

The Butwin family of Tempe, Ariz., shown in a photo from May 2009 (Yafit Butwin's Facebook page)

The Phoenix-area Jewish community is grieving after hearing of the suspected murder-suicide of a local Jewish family that was active in Jewish life.

The Butwin family of Tempe was found burned to death in the family’s SUV on June 2. Police believe that James Butwin died of a gunshot wound that was likely self-inflicted, according to the Arizona Republic. His wife, Yafit, 40, and their three children — Malissa, 16; Daniel, 14; and Matthew, 7 — also died of gunshot wounds, according to the Pima County chief medical examiner.

Police also found two detailed suicide notes, which has convinced them that the deaths were a murder-suicide, according to the newspaper.

Butwin, 47, was a board member of Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation in Tempe, and his children had attended the local Jewish Community Center summer camp.

Yafit Butwin also was an active community member.

Butwin and his wife were going through divorce proceedings but still lived together with their children.

Sal Caputo, a board colleague at Temple Emanuel, described Butwin as “mild mannered, well spoken, pretty focused and funny. He had a dry sense of humor.”

“He seemed like a fine dad,” Caputo added. “He didn’t snap or anything like that. He was just very active in our synagogue and the synagogue board.”

Emanuel held a memorial service for the family on Wednesday night. The local Jewish Family & Children’s Service dispatched a crisis response team to the synagogue and the JCC, providing counseling for the community and children at the camp.

“A lot of questions come up, especially from children,” said Dvora Entin, the crisis response team leader. “Everyone has a different pattern of grief. We will be providing continuous support for the parents, as well as for the staff of the synagogue.”

The AP reported that early last week, Butwin sent his business partner detailed instructions on how to run the business without him. AP also reported that James and Yafit Butwin were fighting in court over their assets, which caused tension. Neighbors of the family also said that James Butwin had a brain tumor, according to reports.

Susan Gordon, Temple Emanuel’s immediate past president, said that even with its problems, the family was still involved in the synagogue.

“They were very active members of our congregation for many years and loved by all of us,” Gordon said. “For our congregation this is really a tragic loss and we’re going through a lot of grief.”