In an emotional video released Monday, Judge Esther Salas spoke about her son’s brutal killing last month and what she describes as the lack of privacy and protection given to federal judges.
“Two weeks ago, my life as I knew it changed in an instant, and my family will never be the same,” Salas said of the July 19 attack at her home in New Jersey, when a gunman posing as a FedEx delivery driver rang her doorbell, shot her 20-year old son Daniel to death, and critically injured her husband Mark.
Salas, speaking about the incident publicly for the first time, said her family had just celebrated Daniel’s birthday and were cleaning up the house that tragic Sunday in July when the doorbell rang.
“Daniel looked at me and said, ‘Who is that?’” Salas said. “And before I could say a word, he sprinted upstairs. Within seconds, I heard the sound of bullets and someone screaming, ‘No!'”
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Salas said her son took a bullet “directly to the chest” trying to protect his father, who is still in the hospital recovering from three bullet wounds.
“My family has experienced a pain that no one should ever have to endure,” she said.
In her nine-minute statement, Salas said the tragedy that befell her family must be used to figure out how to better protect people in her position in government.
“Currently, federal judges’ addresses and other information is readily available on the Internet,” she said. “This monster knew where I lived and what church we attended and had a complete dossier on me and my family.”
Salas said there is nothing judges can do to protect themselves from people like the suspect who allegedly killed her son, and said that’s unacceptable.
Currently, federal judges are offered some protections from the U.S. Marshals Service, but others on the bench have been sounding the alarm that more is needed to be done.
According to data compiled by the Marshals, some 4,449 documented threats and “inappropriate communication” were recorded against judges in 2019. That number is unusually high; on average, the service has seen 1,350 threats and inappropriate communications against judicial members annually since 2015.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow, whose husband and mother were shot and killed by an aggrieved former plaintiff fifteen years ago, lobbied Congress in the aftermath to do more to protect federal judges like herself and Salas.
“I know this is a complicated issue, and I don’t pretend to know or have all answers, but together we can find a way,” Salas said, calling for a “national dialogue” to prevent her son from “dying in vain.”