BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - Three years ago, Vanessa Gonzales and Ashley Garcia were killed by Danny Diaz in Brazos County. Ashley and Vanessa were found dead at separate crimes scenes on May 15, 2015.
It's a day Caroline Contreras will never forget.
"The one thing that I did learn on that day was I died too, but I have a reason to live," said Contreras. Her daughter Vanessa was brutally murdered by Danny Diaz. He also killed his daughter's aunt, Ashley Garcia.
In May 2017, Diaz pleaded guilty to both crimes and was sentenced two life sentences, the maximum penalty possible. Now that some time has passed, Contreras wanted to share her story.
"They had dated for about three years and then my daughter realized when she met him, she made some bad choices with him. I knew that this was toxic," she said. She added the two were not dating at the time of the murders.
Diaz struggled with mental illness including possible bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Contreras is pleased Diaz will spend the rest of his life in prison, but she thinks the killings could have been prevented. Just one week before the murders a court motion was filed to revoke Diaz's probation. He had more than two dozen arrests in Brazos County, including for family violence.
"Something happened where he slipped through the cracks and look what's happened. Now there's six children without their mother," she said.
"I say, okay, the system failed and it wasn't just one, it was two; the mental [health], the probation and then the substance abuse. Here you have three [issues] and I know that now it is an issue with so many other communities as well," said Contreras.
Contreras still has questions about why Diaz didn't get help before he murdered her daughter.
"I know that he did go to a mental institute and I know that it stated he was hallucinating. He had all these symptoms and I wonder why didn't they at least refer him to a hospital somewhere," she said.
Vanessa was her only daughter, but her legacy lives on in her four children.
"I wasn't going to allow him to steal my grandchildren's granny from them and make me bitter and hate. I wasn't going to allow that because then that was going to go towards the kids and I wasn't going to teach them that," she said.
Caroline says she's forgiven Diaz, but she will never forget her last Mother's Day in 2015 and the gifts from Vanessa.
"Everyone who met her would say the same she had that infectious smile, the giggle, and someone that you could always, always, always rely on. She was so dependable," she said.
"We have to as our community hope that this tragedy never ever happens again," said Contreras.
"Vanessa was an only child so you know it's hard. You know it's hard," she said.
Contreras was told that Diaz had plans to kill her and her husband.
"What goes on in a person's mind, be it rage, anger, mental illness was he on drugs I don't know but clearly it was evil," she said.
Contreras tells News 3 she hopes to start a support group in Brazos County for people impacted by murder.
Diaz will be at least 90 before he's eligible for parole.