OAKLAND — A San Jose woman on Tuesday made her first court appearance on special circumstance murder charges in the death of an Oakland couple and their son, a triple slaying that has the victims’ family members searching for answers.

Dana Rivers, 61, is accused of fatally shooting and stabbing semi-retired Berkeley school district teacher Patricia Wright, 57, and her wife Charlotte Reed, 56, fatally shooting Wright’s 19-year-old son Benny Diambu-Wright and then setting fire to the family’s East Oakland home in an attempt to destroy evidence.

Dana Rivers

Dana Rivers

Rivers, a former Sacramento school teacher, gained national attention when she had a sex change operation to become a woman in the 1990s.

“It’s just unbelievable,” said Michael Campbell, the father of Wright’s other son, Khari. He described the slain women as “normal moms.” Diambu-Wright was an aspiring nurse who was attending Laney College and working at Walmart. Wright and Reed had been married for over a year and had three children between them. Rivers was described as an acquaintance.

“I knew this woman (Rivers),” said Wright’s son Khari Campbell-Wright, 19. “I don’t know the whole confines of what was going on. I know she (Rivers) was in a motorcycle club. My mom had no part of it. My brother had no part of it.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” he said.

Police said Rivers was covered with blood and was about to flee on a motorcycle belonging to Reed when she was arrested by police about 12:30 a.m. Friday, moments after officers responded to the house in the 9400 block of Dunbar Drive for reports of gunfire.

Authorities said Rivers had tried to set the house ablaze but her fire was confined to the garage area and quickly controlled.

Diambu-Wright was found shot to death outside the front of the two-story house. Court documents identified him as Toto M. Diambu, but his family and neighbors said he was known as Benny Diambu-Wright.

Inside the house, police found the Wright and Reed stabbed and shot.

Rivers was charged with three counts of murder, the special circumstance that there were multiple killings, arson of an inhabited structure and possession of metal knuckles. The charges call for life in prison without the possibility of parole and make her eligible for the death penalty if the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office decides to pursue capital punishment.

Authorities have not released a motive but have indicated it might have been a dispute over some property.

In court documents, police said Rivers “began to make spontaneous statements about her involvement in the murders.” The document also states that officers found ammunition and knives in her pockets.

Two decades ago, Rivers had a sex-change operation to become a woman and was dismissed as a school teacher in a Sacramento suburb.

Born David Warfield, she was an award-winning school teacher before she began hormone treatments and surgeries to become a woman in 1999, according to the Associated Press and other media accounts. After she made her intentions known to school officials at Center High School in suburban Sacramento, the school district put her on administrative leave and eventually dismissed her. She sued and reached a settlement.

Rivers is being held at Santa Rita Jail without bail and returns to court Wednesday morning.

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(c)2016 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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