Tony Ochoa reflects on the three-year anniversary of Tualatin murder-suicide tragedy

After a murder-suicide briefly made the Legacy MetroLab in Tualatin a crime scene, few employees opted to return to work at the clinic. But despite the Nov. 10, 2009, tragedy, and even after sustaining two gunshot wounds himself, Tony Ochoa saw the office at 7587 S.W. Mohawk St. differently.

“For me, it was an ugly event, an ugly two or three minutes, in a great place,” he said. “Something so short, so quick is not going to erase all those years.”

Ochoa, now 66, returned to work at the forensic drug testing lab in March 2010, and remained there until his retirement this past January. The painful effects of the shooting made him unable to reach his goal of working until the age of 70. He was with Legacy MetroLab for 12 years.

Seven of those years were spent working alongside victim Teresa Beiser, the 36-year-old mother of two whose estranged husband, Rob, opened fire on her before committing suicide. Ochoa doesn’t linger too long when describing the horrific scene, which he recounts with a reverent straightforwardness. He prefers to talk about how, as coworkers, he and Teresa were a combination of brother and sister, father and daughter.

He describes Teresa as “feisty,” a devoted mother of two, a fitness buff who led spin classes and was in what he calls “total health.”

“Anything (I see) to do with cycling, about Lance (Armstrong), she pops — bam! — right into mind. And then I remember the whole thing very quickly. The (shooting) just flashes,” he said.

But the recent Lance Armstrong headlines remind Ochoa, too, of the fond rapport he shared with Teresa. He remembers how he used to tease Teresa that Armstrong, one of her personal heroes, was actually a cheat. It was all in good fun; Teresa gave as good as she got, Ochoa said.

“When I started working with Teresa, little by little we started talking more,” Ochoa said. “As time went by, I started opening up more about myself. I never really went into a lot of detail, some things I still keep very private. But she opened up to me a lot.”

It was an unusual dynamic for Ochoa, a Vietnam veteran who said he’d never felt so at ease opening up to anyone else.

“Teresa was genuine in everything she did. Nobody could ever accuse her of being two-faced or telling a white lie. Teresa didn’t believe in white lies,” he said.

A sad anniversary

In the years since the workplace shooting, Ochoa has struggled with collapsed lungs and chronic pain. He finds he gets his best sleep in a recliner. He can still feel the bullet that lodged itself too close to his spine to be safely extracted. He’s taken to walking with a cane in the past year to relieve some of the strain on his left leg, the site of the second bullet wound.

And he has had to field some criticism that he could have done more to protect Teresa, despite the fact Ochoa himself was shot through the window of the facility and hadn’t seen Rob coming.

“I was reading the paper,” Ochoa said. “If there would’ve been a confrontation, I would’ve fought him. There’s no way I would have let him kill Teresa. He would’ve had to kill me first. But I never saw him coming.”

At almost the exact moment he was robbed of a dear friend, Ochoa found a new one in the form of Gabe Grossman. Grossman was a stranger at the time who worked in a neighboring office and pulled Ochoa to safety as bullets continued to fly. Inside a nearby office, Grossman kept pressure on Ochoa’s wounds until emergency medical assistance arrived.

Finding solace

Ochoa’s Christian beliefs color his narrative of the workplace killings. Ochoa recalls watching Teresa and Rob calmly divvy up their assets as they attempted to dissolve their marriage with minimal financial and emotional costs. Ochoa remembers Rob as “mellow” — a description which belies a man who purchased three separate fire arms and drove from Gladstone to Tualatin to kill the mother of his children.

Court records show that Teresa filed for divorce Oct. 30, 2009. She was rumored to be in a new relationship. Rob, in his rage, might have suspected Ochoa was the other man — Ochoa was, after all, the first to be shot.

“That day, that morning, the devil got into Rob,” Ochoa said. It is to him the only explanation that makes any kind of sense.

But as Ochoa approaches the third anniversary of Teresa’s death, and as he tries to put together a better memorial for her, he’s found that losing the rare person he felt open with has gotten him talking.

After the traumas of Vietnam, he drank to excess and in isolation, he said. Now he talks about that day in 2009, and he talks about Teresa.

“People ask me, and I’ve been able to roll everything out, little by little,” Ochoa said. “This is the first time in my life I can be open about something without keeping it, without saying it’s nobody’s business. Because it is somebody’s business — people care. People are concerned about how I’m doing. That’s not so much touching as really overwhelming, because we’ve become so jaded, we’ve become so cynical, we don’t think people have the propensity to care. And they show it. But they say it. That’s meant a lot to me.”

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