Scared for herself and her son, Yasemin Uyar was on the move again.
On Wednesday, the 24-year-old mother was packing up her apartment in Rahway and making arrangements to move later in the week, for what may have been the sixth time, said her mother Karen Uyar. The restraining order Yasemin Uyar had gotten more than a year ago against her son’s father, Tyler Rios, did not keep him from staying away, Karen Uyar said.
Rios’ erratic and violent behavior was escalating, said Karen Uyar, who said he had been previously arrested for violating the order.
Karen Uyar said she last saw her daughter on Wednesday, and she seemed fine, just preoccupied with the move. Friends were supposed to help her move on Friday, so when her daughter did not respond to her text messages that appeared not to go through, Karen Uyar said she didn’t panic.
But she said she became concerned on Friday when the Highland Park Police Department left a voicemail for Karen Uyar’s other daughter, Marissa, alerting her that Yasemin had been assaulted. When an officer went to her home in Rahway, Yasemin and her son were not there. Her car, a silver late-model Ford Fiesta, was also gone, Karen Uyar said.
Speaking on her front porch Saturday morning, Karen Uyar expressed relief that the 2-year-old boy, Sebastian, was found unhurt, but wept at the thought of daughter missing. She said she wants to remain optimistic but noted that Rios had previously choked her daughter and slammed her head into a wall.
Sebastian and Tyler Rios were found Saturday in Monterey, Tennessee, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo and Rahway Police Department Director Jonathan Parham said. Tyler Rios was arrested without incident, according to the authorities. He is currently being held in Tennessee and will be extradited to New Jersey to face criminal charges in Union County Superior Court.
Court records show Rios was charged with aggravated assault and strangulation of a domestic violence victim and theft in 2018. He took a plea deal and was convicted of the domestic violence assault charge, according to a judgment of conviction signed in February 2020. The strangulation and theft charges were dismissed. As part of the agreement, Rios was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years of probation.
He was also ordered not to have contact with the victim and to undergo anger management classes.
The court documents do not identify Rios’ victim, but the circumstances and timeline of his conviction are consistent with Karen Uyar’s account.
Karen Uyar said she repeatedly told her daughter that she lived in fear she would someday get a terrifying call, but her daughter downplayed her concerns. “She would say, ‘He really wouldn’t hurt me. He just wants control.’”
In a lengthy Facebook post in 2019, Karen Uyar recounted a visit her daughter made to Rios in Phoenix, Arizona that led to a 911 call and Rios’ arrest.
“She’s just such a sweet person. She’s a great mom. She does everything with Sebastian. She’s not the kind of kid who always goes out with her friends,” Uyar said. She said Sebastian is ” a happy and playful child” who loves Spiderman and other super heroes.
Her daughter works at Walgreens and spends the rest of her time with her son, she said.
“She wanted to be independent, to spend time with Sebastian, help him find friends. She wanted what every mother wants for her child,” Karen Uyar said. She said she and her two daughters spent a lot of time together and spoke or face-timed every day. Yasmin’s father lives in Turkey, she said.
Rios and Uyar met at Highland Park High School and dated on and off for years, Karen Uyar said.
Rios, who spent his childhood in Newark, was a standout high school wrestler after his mother sent him to live in Highland Park. ”He’s the guy that we are building the program around,” his coach told a reporter in 2011 after the 189-pound junior, a region champ, set a school record with his 88th career victory. He would later fall short in the state championships.
For a while, Karen Uyar said, “Yasie” tried to co-parent with Tyler Rios and allowed them to go out for visits. He was supposed to retrieve his son from Karen Uyar’s home in Highland Park, but he wouldn’t abide by those terms, she said, and instead he’d go right to Yasemin’s apartment. Tyler Rios has a drinking problem and was always hoping he could reconcile with Yasemin, said Karen Uyar.
About three months ago Rios showed up at the apartment unannounced. When the police came, he hid behind Sebastian’s bed, Karen Uyar said her daughter told her. At that moment, she said her daughter realized she could no longer give him any more chances since he was willing to use their son as a shield between himself and the police.
Karen Uyar said she has since learned her daughter did not report to work at Walgreen’s on Thursday, which is uncharacteristic of her not to at least call out sick if she couldn’t make it.
Karen Uyar said she didn’t know why Rios had fled to Tennessee, although he has family in Georgia and Arizona. He was driving a different car than her daughter’s Ford Fiesta when arrested, she said police told her.
She said was making arrangements Saturday to go to Tennessee to bring Sebastian home. “In my heart, I want to believe she’s okay, that she will need time to heal.”
“I just want to bring her home, however I can.”
Staff writer S.P. Sullivan contributed to this report.