CABARETE, Dominican Republic — Dominican Republic authorities on Sunday announced six arrests in connection with the brutal killing of a beloved American teacher who was strangled during an alleged robbery in her apartment.
Patricia Ann "Patty" Anton, 63, was found dead in her Cabarete, Puerto Plata, home on Nov. 12, bound at the hands and feet, according to a news release from the Dominican Republic National Police. Her body was sent to the National Institute of Forensic Pathology in Santiago, where it was determined she died of asphyxiation.
Hoy Digital, an online news site based out of Santa Domingo, reported that Anton, who was found gagged with a rag, had been tortured before she was killed.
"I don't know what to say. Everybody's heartbroken," Patrick Anton told the news program.
On Sunday, authorities announced the arrests of six of the seven people investigators have identified as suspects in the case: Michael Mariñez Rosario, Heuri Flores Hernández, Junior Alexis Suarez, Juan José Andújar Mella, Oroniel Canario Montero and Alexis Maquey, also known as Alexis Makenley. Four of the suspects, Mella and Rosario and Haitian nationals Maquey and Suarez, have prior criminal records, police officials said.
Investigators are still looking for a seventh suspect in the case, who goes by “Eiden and/or El Venezolano,” or “The Venezuelan.”
"Our researchers from the Central Research Directorate (DICRIM) continue to deepen the investigations together with the Public Ministry and continue the search and capture of Eiden and/or El Venezolano to apprehend him and make him available to justice along with his accomplices," a translation of the agency's Sunday announcement said.
The group is accused of traveling to Puerto Plata in order to commit crimes in the province, which is located along the Dominican Republic’s northern Atlantic coast. They are suspects in at least one robbery that took place in the days before Anton was slain.
Hoy Digital reported that a phone call one of the accused made to a friend, using Patty Anton's stolen cellphone, helped lead investigators to her alleged killers. The man reportedly left the friend a voicemail saying the group was in trouble because police were seeking them in the homicide.
The news site reported that one of the men arrested in the investigation was a Haitian man who cleans the building where Anton reportedly moved in days before she was killed.
9&10 News in Cadillac, Michigan, reported that investigators in the Dominican Republic also used surveillance footage from the apartment building to identify the suspects.
Anton's slaying has aimed yet another international spotlight on the country, which sits alongside Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, following a recent spate of deaths of American tourists there. According to Inside Edition, tourism in the beleaguered nation has fallen by more than 100,000 visitors this year.
"However, the full student population has children from various cultures, nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds," the website reads. "We are proud of our diversity, which reflects the community in which we live."
Anton worked at the school for six years before she was killed, according to her biography on the school website.
"Born in Italy, Patty spent a large portion of her life traveling with her family before settling down in Michigan to raise her own family," the bio reads.
In Michigan, Anton raised three children, sons who are now in their 30s and a now-28-year-old daughter. 9&10 News reported that Anton spent 12 years as a teacher at The Children's House, an independent Montessori school in Traverse City.
The U.S. school mourned Anton on its Instagram page.
"Our Montessori family tragically lost an incredible light this week," the statement reads. "Patty touched the lives of so many children, parents, co-workers and loved ones. Her bright spirit courses through the halls of The Children's House and the legacies she left behind are indelible.
“We have shared so many stories of Patty together this week. We remember her as caring, spirited, generous, and creative. She was truly a champion for every child and encouraged each one of them to believe in themselves and their special and unique gifts.”
The school’s statement said the community would continue to “carry the torch” that Anton lit through the belief in the potential of every human being.
“Rest in peace, beautiful Patty,” it reads.
The Children’s House will be the site of Anton’s memorial service on Nov. 30.
Anton, who was certified to teach ages 6 to 12, had more than 20 years of experience teaching, consulting, writing curriculum, developing elementary programs and mentoring in the Montessori community, her bio page for 3 Mariposas reads.
"In addition to her teaching experience, Patty (had) served as a legislative aide at the Michigan State Capitol and, prior to joining 3 Mariposas Montessori's faculty, she also served as a volunteer in Guatemala City, Guatemala and Matagorda, Dominican Republic," the bio states. "She (brought) her love for children and dedication to making positive changes through education to our school."
Sarah Ludwig-Ross, the founder and head of 3 Mariposas Montessori, issued a statement to NBC News about the sadness Anton's slaying has brought upon the school community.
"The children, parents, teachers and the community in general are completely heartbroken over this loss," Ludwig-Ross said.
In a statement shared on the school's Facebook page, school officials said Anton gave her "heart and soul" to the school.
"Patty loved each and every one of our children just as if they were her own," the post read. "She would light up a room upon entering it and be sure to make everyone smile and laugh with her wonderful sense of humor. Patty was a mentor, a friend, a leader, and a counselor to many.
“She will be missed here on Earth but will forever stay in our hearts. We love you, Patty.”
The school celebrated its 10-year anniversary last weekend, and school officials said Anton had been looking forward to the event.
"Even though she was struggling from back pain, she said that she was looking forward to celebrating our 10 amazing years, even if she had to come with a walker," school officials said.
The school held a memorial service for Anton on Sunday, the same day police announced they had arrested her alleged killers. Inside Edition, which sent a news crew to the Dominican Republic, was on hand for the ocean-side memorial, in which mourners, including both adults and children, laid flowers on the sand that were then gathered and released among the waves.
Watch Inside Edition's segment on the death of Patty Anton below.
"We are devastated, and our family will never forget her. We are devastated," one woman told the program's crew.
Anton's cousin, Adrianne Machina, told ABC News last week that the Dominican Republic was Anton's "happy place."
"I think her dream was to retire down there," Machina told the news network. "The Dominican Republic really gave her purpose and peace."
On Monday, after police announced the arrests related to Anton's death, Machina released a video in which she read a written statement on behalf Anton's husband, children and extended family.
"We would like to thank both the Dominican Republic and American law enforcement communities for their vigorous efforts to find and arrest the perpetrators of this crime. The world lost a bright and beautiful soul, but we are committed to keep her light shining bright on the values she held so dear," Machina said. "She embodied the Montessori philosophy of respect for self, for others and our world.
“Patty loved America and she loved the Dominican Republic and the 3 Mariposas Montessori school where she worked. In her honor, the school will be creating a peace park in her name.”
Anton's family requested that donations be made to the school for the creation of the park. Patrick Anton told ABC News the peace park would be a "lasting legacy in the Cabarete community she loved so much."
In her video, Machina turned again to the crime that took Patty Anton’s life.
Watch Adrianne Machina speak about her slain cousin below.
"We hope that bringing the perpetrators to justice will bring some measure of peace to those who loved her and restore confidence for residents and tourists alike that the Dominican Republic is a safe and beautiful place that, like many other places, has experienced an unfortunate tragedy," Machina said.
Veering from the family’s written statement, Machina offered her own recollections of her cousin.
"Patty was just one of those really special people who had magic and a sparkle of mischief in her eye," Machina said with a smile. "One family member said, 'She was like a saint, except for way more fun.'"
Machina said Anton wore her heart on her sleeve and was prone to easy tears over kind words.
"And it was just as easy (for her) to burst into a fit of giggles," Machina recalled fondly.
In a Facebook post, she shared a memory of a time during a family vacation when Anton sidestepped a compliment.
“So, my dad and I started showering her with praise: ‘You’re the best mom ever. Your students are the luckiest kids in the world. You’re so beautiful,’ until she cried and begged us to stop, and we all burst out laughing,” Machina wrote. “All of it was true. I will miss that laugh -- just thinking about her smile brings a smile to my face.”
Kindness was Anton’s strength, her cousin said, and she built community wherever she went.
"Walking by, she knew the shopkeepers by name," Machina said in the video statement. "I'm sure every single student thought that they were her favorite student."
Machina said her cousin was initially overwhelmed by the task at hand when she moved to the Dominican Republic to teach. She ultimately drew strength from her students, whom she said Anton realized had overcome obstacles much larger than those she faced.
"She drew strength from them, just as we are drawing strength from her now to be bigger, better and tougher," Machina said.
She pointed out that, as a preschool teacher, Anton spent her days teaching her students to use their words and manage their emotions.
"Yes, we're mad, and we're sad, and we will channel those emotions into seeking justice and to sowing seeds of kindness and to reaching out and embracing people who are different," Machina said.
"In a world that can be unkind and unfair, she sought to make a difference, and we hope that you, too, will seek to make a difference," she told those watching. "Be kind. Be generous. Have respect for yourself, for others and our world."
Those who knew Anton responded in droves to the school's announcement of her death on Facebook.
"I met this shining star briefly near the beach and, when she learned that I did music, I was immediately enlisted to meet her kids," Mike Tangen wrote, sharing a photo from his visit with Anton's students. "What a wonderful person. Such a loss to all of humanity! My heart aches for all of Cabarete."
“This picture captures her spirit beautifully,” Jennifer Rybka Orwig wrote. “Patty’s kindness and love touched so many people. She spoke so highly of your school and the people of the Dominican Republic. Her spirit will live on in each act of kindness that we share.”
A parent, Erin Rowe Wilson, wrote that her family loved Anton.
"She, along with the entire 3MM family, welcomed us and made us feel happy and safe," Wilson wrote. "Our hearts will hold her, and our minds will never forget her. May God's grace be with her children and family and all who loved her."
The 3 Mariposas Montessori website's homepage on Friday hosted a donation button asking for contributions to help build both a new school and the Patty Anton Peace Park. The request included a quote from Anton herself.
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