How years of abuse led to N.J. woman’s tragic death and a ‘biggest fear come true’ | #facebookdating | #tinder | #pof | romancescams | #scams

Two close friends, Yasemin Uyar and Jacqui Pscolka, met up with another woman at a brick-front pizza place on a Highland Park corner six years ago.

They came with a warning. The man the other woman had just started dating, Tyler Rios, was dangerous.

Uyar knew him well. She had been dating Rios on and off since they met in Highland Park High School four years prior and he had a history of being physically abusive toward her, according to family and friends. Uyar’s stories startled the woman, prompting the three friends to walk to Rios’ home where she tried to end the relationship.

Instead, Rios showed some of what he was capable of as he grabbed Uyar by the throat with both hands and lifted her off the ground, then dragged her by her hair when she tried to run, according to Pscolka, who described the incident to NJ Advance Media and tried to intervene. But Pscolka herself ended up a victim of Rios’ abuse as well, as he turned to choke her before slamming her head into the pavement, she said.

Rios was charged with simple assault for the incident, but the charges were dropped after Uyar declined to testify, according to online court records.

That day was just one day in what Uyar’s friends and family say was an endless cycle of domestic violence that ended last week when 27-year-old Rios — now charged with murder — allegedly strangled the 24-year-old, kidnapped their toddler son and fled to Tennessee with the young boy and her body in his car.

Her death highlights the disturbing cycle of domestic violence, according to other victims and advocates. There is no clear or easy path to escaping an abusive relationship, they say. Restraining orders can only do so much, and children make it even harder to leave for good, victims and advocates say. And during the times the victim does try to end it permanently, like Uyar did repeatedly, that is when it can be most dangerous for them.

Uyar planned on moving to a new apartment on July 9, her mother previously said. She was killed the day prior.

“My heart sunk,” Pscolka said when learning of her friend’s death. “It was my biggest fear come true.”

‘Just a piece of paper’

Uyar’s story does not stand alone.

That pattern of on-and-off relationships and escalating abuse is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence, Diane Williams, the executive director of Jersey Battered Women’s Service (JBWS), a New Jersey domestic violence agency that provides support to victims of abuse, told NJ Advance Media.

“Really her story could be just about any. It’s unfortunately similar to many of the stories that we hear about, with victims of domestic violence and how their situation ends,” Williams said.

Friends and family said Uyar had tried to leave Rios several times over the years, most recently the week of her death. She was packing for a move on Friday, in yet another attempt to escape Rios, her mother said.

He was such a presence around her Rahway apartment that, despite a restraining order, a neighbor told police they thought Rios lived with Uyar, court documents showed.

Often advocated as a tool for domestic violence victims, restraining orders have limits to what they can accomplish, experts say.

“A restraining order is a court document — it is something that you can enforce, but if you see someone on the street, that’s a piece of paper that’s not going to get in between you,” Williams said. “So really that sort of restraining order depends on how seriously the offender takes that restraining order.”

And not every victim will be able or comfortable seeking a restraining order. Stephanie Parze, the Freehold woman who was murdered following a short abusive relationship in 2019, never had one, her father, Ed Parze, told NJ Advance Media.

“That was part of the manipulation from (her abuser). It’s a very thin line. It always falls to the victim to try and sort it out,” Parze said, calling the orders “just a piece of paper.”

Average domestic violence victims will attempt to leave their abusers seven times before they are able to stay away for good, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, something the Uyar family saw firsthand.

But in a cruel twist, that time period after a victim leaves is also the most deadly, with studies finding a woman is most likely to be killed in the period directly after leaving an abusive partner.

Other risk factors, like previous violent threats, access to a gun, stalking, or violence during pregnancy also increases the likeliness a partner will become homicidal, a study has found.

Strangulation is also a large risk factor, with a previous strangulation attempt increasing the chance of a victim’s death tenfold, Williams said.

Domestic violence is all too common in America: one in four women and one in seven men will be abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime, Williams said.

“Yasemin, this was local, but we follow so many cases and this happens all over the place,” Parze said.

Karen Uyar, mother of Yasmine Uyar, speaks in front of the Highland Park Police Department, in Highland Park, N.J. July, 12, 2021 Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

‘A monster to them both’

The warning signs surrounding Rios’ behavior had been obvious for years, friends and family say.

In addition to the 2015 pizza parlor incident, where Pscolka accused Rios of choking her, Rios allegedly choked Uyar until she was unconscious in 2018.

He would later serve 180 days in jail after pleading guilty to a domestic violence assault charge and violating his probation. The strangulation charge was dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Those two counts are just some of many domestic violence charges Rios faced, dating back to the 2015 incident.

Over the next six years, he would be accused of assault and violating a restraining order on at least five different occasions, yet he never served significant time behind bars, according to online court records. Most of the cases, according to online court records, were disposed of in family court. Their outcomes are unclear.

Following the 2018 assault, Rios was not charged with any crimes in New Jersey over the next two years, according to online court records. However, Karen Uyar recounted in a Facebook post about a visit her daughter made to Rios in Phoenix, Arizona in 2019 in which she said Rios was arrested and charged with assaulting her.

Karen Uyar wrote that Rios was verbally and physically abusive to her daughter during the trip, saying he pushed her, spit on her and threatened her. When police arrived, he allegedly forced Uyar and their son into the bathroom and “demanded her to cover (their son’s) mouth when he was crying in fear,” the mother wrote.

“No longer a Father,” Karen Uyar continued. “He was a monster to them both.”

While serving his county jail sentence for violating probation after the 2018 assault, Rios sought to be released from custody during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the court ordered hundreds of inmates to be released due to health concerns.

A judge denied Rios’ request, saying he was not eligible under the order but also because he previously fled New Jersey and upon his return assaulted Uyar once again, according to a copy of the denial obtained by NJ Advance Media.

After being released last year, Rios would again be charged with more crimes related to domestic abuse, according to online court records. In October, he was accused of assault in East Orange, and then two days later, Rios was accused of violating a restraining order and resisting arrest, according to online court records.

Most recently, he was arrested in March and charged with simple assault and violating a restraining order after police responded to a domestic dispute in which Uyar alleged Rios threw paperwork at her face and then struck her in the face with the back of his hand. Police said she had a visible mark on her face.

Uyar had an active restraining order against Rios at the time.

Rios’ family could not be reached for comment and it is unclear if he has an attorney at this time. The family released a statement on social media this week, expressing their condolences for the Uyar family and said they hope to help raise Sebastian, while adding that Rios was being inaccurately described as an abusive partner.

“The choices that Tyler made in life leading up to the day Yasemin loss (sic) her life will be something that he will have to live with for the rest of his life,” the statement said. “…Tyler is not the ‘monster’ that is being unfairly portrayed in the media. As the investigation continues all the facts will prevail.”

Tyler Rios Yasemin Uyar case

Tyler Rios, inset photo, was arrested inside this hotel, the Bethel Inn & Suites, in Monterey, Tennessee during the early morning hours of July 10, 2021. Officers from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and Monterey police found him with his son, Sebastian Rios, 2 – the subject of an Amber Alert from Rahway, N.J. Officers found his ex-girlfriend, Ysaemin Uyar, Sebastian’s mother, dead nearby.(Google/Police photos)

‘Manipulation is the biggest part’

Family and friends described Uyar, who was known to most as “Yazzie,” as a devoted mother, who loved her son unconditionally and always put his needs first. Pscolka said Sebastian was Uyar’s “driving goal in life.”

But Rios, who shared custody of Sebastian with Uyar, would use their son “as a weapon in conversation and often for leverage back into her life,” Pscolka said.

“Assault is a large part of it, but it’s not the biggest part of it, manipulation is the biggest part,” Parze said.

Abusers will frequently use a victim’s family against them, alienating them from their loved ones as just one more way to gain control, Williams, the domestic violence advocate, said.

But sometimes, using a child as a pawn is what spurs an abused partner to leave for good. Enduring a domestic violence incident in front of her young daughter is what prompted, Heather, a victim who sought help through the Jersey Battered Women’s Service, to leave her now ex-husband for good.

Heather, who NJ Advance Media is only identifying by her first name to protect her, spoke with NJ Advance Media in hopes of sharing her story to encourage others to seek help.

“The child is not even a person, it’s just another way to manipulate and control,” said Heather. Her ex-husband used a lengthy and expensive custody battle as a way to exert power over her, she said, something that “was purely designed to abuse me.”

Yasemin Uyar

Yasemin Uyar (left) pictured with Jacqui Pscolka (right), a close friend who said she had witnessed Tyler Rios strangle Uyar in 2015.

Rios’ abuse took a toll on Uyar’s relationships. Pscolka hadn’t seen Uyar since last winter after Rios re-entered her life once again, she said. Pscolka knew her friend was looking for a new apartment and a chance at a fresh start with her son.

“I was really hoping to reconnect sometime this month,” Pscolka said.

But Rios would berate Uyar for living independently, hoping to reel her back in, friends said. Isolation and jealousy are some of the earliest signs of abuse, Williams said, and come far before relationships turn physically violent.

“Just these little insidious ways to distance you (from friends), ‘you like them more than you like me,’” Williams said. “There are these ways that they start to just really isolate their victim because the more isolated that they are, potentially the longer that the abuse can continue.”

“You have to have people who support you and the problem is that there’s a lot of places where that (support) can fall down, and then your abuser is right there to pick you up and suck you back in,” Heather said.

‘Reach out for help’

Domestic violence can be prevented and early and constant education is key, Williams and Parze said.

In the wake of Uyar’s death, Highland Park High School is expanding its healthy dating programs to all grade levels, instead of limiting it to just one.

“I can’t say enough about if we can start really young with talking to people about what healthy relationships look like and what to do if your friend is not in a healthy relationship. We can prevent a lot of things from happening,” Williams said.

And education should not be limited to victims; those who are falling into abusive patterns should also reach out for help to address their own behavior, experts said.

“There’s so much shame that gets connected to it…that there’s a hesitancy sometimes for people to reach out for help. And so if we’re able to de-stigmatize some of what’s happening, it’s more likely that someone is going to access the resources and the support that they need,” Williams said.

Her organization, the Jersey Battered Women’s Service, offers a batterer’s intervention program that helps target the root of abusive behavior. While some participants are there on a court order, some come voluntarily after recognizing unhealthy patterns in themselves, she said.

Education for those who have been abused is also crucial to help them re-learn how to have a healthy relationship, set boundaries, and avoid entering into another unhealthy relationship.

“It’s a lifetime of continuous learning,” Heather said. She still attends therapy to work on boundry-setting, and said she continues to reach out to her support systems when needed.

And seven years after leaving her abusive ex-husband, she is doing great, she says.

“I was able to just move on and start building back that life I want,” she said.

‘Be strong for one another’

The decade-long abuse saga came to a tragic end last week when an Amber alert went out that said Rios had kidnapped Sebastian and Uyar was missing. Days later, the boy was found safe in a Tennessee hotel room, along with Rios who told police Uyar was dead and pinpointed where her body was, authorities have said.

Police located Rios after he allegedly called a family member and another person, telling them he had been traveling with Uyar’s dead body in the vehicle he was in. She had been dead for a couple days, he told an unidentified person, according to the criminal complaint.

Rios has been charged with kidnapping and murder, and is scheduled to be extradited to New Jersey.

The news has rattled the small Middlesex County community and garnered national attention, prompting a search party and GoFundMe fundraisers that have brought in over $32,000.

“They have to be strong for one another,” Parze said of the road in front of the Uyar family.

“It’s fortunate that they (arrested Rios)… unfortunately for the family, this is going to drag on for a year, maybe two until it comes to closure. It’s tough,” Parze said, speaking through tears. His own daughter’s killer died by suicide before her body was found, robbing the family of any legal closure, he said.

But Uyar’s death struck a particular chord with the woman who Uyar and Pscolka met in the Highland Park pizza place to warn her about Rios in 2015. In the days after Uyar’s death, she wrote a message to Pscolka.

“I wanna thank you because Yasemin saved my life from Tyler,” according to the message reviewed by NJ Advance Media. “Today, I remember you sitting with me at La Rosa Pizzeria, telling me be very careful with Tyler.”

Editor’s Note: Reach the New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-572-SAFE (7233). Reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), chat with their advocates here or text LOVEIS to 22522.

Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a subscription.

Katie Kausch may be reached at kkausch@njadvancemedia.com.

Joe Atmonavage may be reached at jatmonavage@njadvancemedia.com.

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