DALLAS – Just hours before two whole families were killed, the group had thrown a large Christmas Eve party at their ranch. Dozens of friends and relatives celebrated late into the night. No one seemed to mind that one family member, Aziz Yazdanpanah, was not there.
He and his wife, the hostess’ sister, had separated and many assumed he was not invited. But just hours after that party, Yazdanpanah, would open fire on his family Christmas morning and then kill himself.
“We had no idea it was going to be the last time we saw them,” said Rafik Toumani through tears the day after the killing.
He and his family had been among dozens at the Christmas Eve party and had known the family for more than 30 years.
“Instead of a Christmas party it was a goodbye party," he said.
In a case considered the deadliest in Grapevine’s history, seven people were found killed on Christmas in an apartment on the 2500 block of Hall Johnson Road. The family had apparently just opened gifts. Police found their bodies around 11:30 a.m. near presents and wrapping paper. A Christmas tree stood nearby.
Friends said Yazdanpanah, 56, likely showed up unexpectedly. He murdered his family while wearing a Santa Claus suit and two guns were found near the bodies, authorities said.
“Christmas is never going to be the same,” said Mona Hosseiny, 27, who grew up with the victims’ children.
Friends identified the victims as Nasrin Rahmaty, 55, the wife of the gunman, who worked at a nearby salon. The couple’s two children were also killed. Friends said Nona Yazdanpanah, 19, was a student at Tarrant County Community College who dreamed of becoming a lawyer. Her brother, 15-year-old Ali, was also killed. He was a student at Colleyville Heritage High School.
Yazdanpanah also killed his sister-in-law’s family from Irving. Zohreh Rahmaty, 58, was Nasrin’s sister. She was shot along with her husband, Hossein Zarei, 59, and their only child, Sahra Zarei, 22.
The three children killed were first cousins, but were as close as siblings, friends say.
“They basically called each other sister, brother,” Hosseiny said. “They were everybody’s best friend and everybody loved them so much.”
The families were well known in North Texas’ Iranian community. The Zarei’s owned the Cedar Canyon Dude Ranch in Lancaster, which they ran as an event center, friends say. Their daughter, Sahra, handled marketing for the company and was studying pre-med at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“She was the first friend I made here,” said Sahra’s best friend, Neda Hosseiny, 22. “She’s gone.”
She says the Zarei family loved to volunteer, and would often greet returning U.S. soldiers at D/FW International Airport.
“They loved to do that,” Hosseiny said. “They would make the [welcome] signs.”
No one expected the family to suddenly disappear.
In March, the Yazdanpanahs separated and the wife moved her two children to a Grapevine apartment. Public records show the family had financial troubles. A bank foreclosed on their Colleyville home last year, although Mr. Yazdanpanah continued living there. His friends say his business as a realtor was struggling, and the family had declared bankruptcy.
Still, police aren’t saying what could have sparked the shooting. Family friends say he never showed any sign of being violent.
“During the years, we sensed things,” family friend Sedi Toumani conceded, “but not to the point he would take his own children’s lives!”