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Double dose of tragedy

In one nightmarish month, Sharla Flores lost her husband to murder and her family home to foreclosure.

Her husband of nearly 35 years, Rodolfo "Juan" Flores Cruz, 56, was gunned down July 18 in the doorway of his parents' home while he visited family in the village of Corralejo de Hidalgo, near Pénjamo, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Then, on Aug. 10, the Medford home the couple had shared for the past decade, raising their four children to adulthood, was sold at a foreclosure auction, despite a last-ditch attempt to find help in a federal program.

"It's still a shock," Sharla Flores said, sitting on a couch in a cozy living room that's no longer hers. "It's a bad dream I want to wake up from."

Juan Flores' death is still shrouded in mystery.

He had spent two weeks in Mexico, where he went once or twice a year to see his parents, who are both in their 80s. He particularly wanted to see his mother, who has diabetes and must undergo kidney dialysis, as her health faltered, Sharla Flores said.

At about 7 a.m. on Sunday, July 18, just days before Flores, who became a U.S. citizen in 1998, was scheduled to return to Medford, he answered a knock on the door of his parents' home and was met by gunfire. His father reported hearing shots and a car speeding away, then finding his son dead.

The family here is working with police and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico to track the investigation.

"A special unit is investigating, but it's hard to find out much," Sharla Flores said.

Still reeling from the sudden death of her husband, Flores, who is a packing plant supervisor at Harry and David, also faced trouble that had been building since last year.

The couple had gotten behind in an adjustable-rate mortgage they had taken out in 2006, their second refinancing in less than two years.

As the Rogue Valley real estate market soared, they had refinanced the neat three-bedroom, two-bathroom home on Connell Avenue that they had bought in a $125,000 owner-financed sale in 2000.

"They said our house was worth $235,000," she said, so the couple borrowed $185,600 from Wells Fargo at a starting rate of 7.875 percent.

They replaced 1970s-era carpets and floor coverings, installed vinyl siding, built a brick patio in the backyard, and paid off Juan's truck.

Their payments surged just as the economy began to melt down in 2008. Periodic shut-downs replaced ample overtime at Juan Flores' job as a dryer feeder at Boise Cascade.

"Our income went down and our payments went up," Sharla Flores said. "That's where we got messed up."

The faltering economy ultimately sent the rate the Floreses' mortgage was pegged to back down in 2009, but they floundered.

In February, they were nearly $9,500 behind in payments, according to the public notice of their default. They still owed $179,972.

Flores set about trying to get a loan modification, submitting reams of documents to Wells Fargo. The constant calls to update financial information, submit new pay stubs or fill in a forgotten signature frustrated Juan, who sometimes said he wanted to walk away from it all. Sharla was committed to keeping the home, though.

When an unlicensed real estate agent showed up on the Floreses' doorstep this spring promising to help avoid foreclosure, they provided all sorts of banking and personal information. Then, when the woman's promised buyer never materialized, Sharla Flores demanded her paperwork back and had to go through a process with Wells Fargo to clarify that the woman wasn't representing the couple.

Tom Unger, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said the bank was working with the Floreses, trying to find a tool that could help avoid foreclosure.

"Foreclosure is bad for the homeowner, bad for the neighborhood, bad for the community and bad for us," he said, noting that between January 2009 and June 30, 2010, the bank helped more than half a million customers with loan modification.

Sharla was still working with Wells Fargo while her husband was in Mexico, but when he died, she was overwhelmed.

On Aug. 5, just days before the auction was set, she turned to Terry Rasmussen, a certified distressed property expert with RE/MAX Platinum, who had helped her daughter postpone a foreclosure auction and seek a short sale through a new federal program.

The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives, or HAFA, program streamlines short-sale rules, giving homeowners who are in a bind more time to arrange sales and banks incentives to work with them.

Rasmussen said most banks have embraced the program and an asset manager at Wells Fargo was willing to consider Flores for the program. However, gathering and processing the documents would have taken seven to 10 days.

At the auction, a Medford-based investment group, Purple Cow Properties LLC, bought the home and asked Sharla Flores, her 24-year-old son and 11-year-old granddaughter to leave the next week.

"The buyer had no information about the former owners," said Vic Nicolescu, a broker with The Alba Group at Keller Williams Realty. "It's just a piece of property, one of many going through foreclosure."

This year, Nicolescu and Purple Cow have teamed up to buy several properties out of foreclosure around Jackson County, property records show.

He offered to relay questions to the investors but no answers were returned on Thursday.

Nicolescu, who said he handles many transactions involving distressed properties, said families facing foreclosure get ample notice of the pending auction and the need for them to move.

"I knew this was coming, but I thought they could have a little compassion," Flores said.

She plans to liquidate her furniture and other possessions "one room at a time" in a series of garage sales that started last weekend. Flores, her son and granddaughter and their little Chihuahua are looking for an apartment in Medford, perhaps near Bear Creek Park, a place Juan loved to take his children and then his grandchildren.

"I have a lot to do on my own," Flores said. "It's overwhelming."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Sharla Flores' husband, Juan, died a month ago, the victim of a shooting in Mexico. That tragedy was followed on Aug. 10 by the foreclosure auction of the Medford home they had owned since 2000. - Jim Craven