Lee remembered for caring about her hometown, being wonderful person

A former Missouri Valley woman and her husband who both loved to go dancing and had aspiring future plans were found murdered Saturday, Dec. 8, after a fire was reported at a mobile home near Ewing, Neb., which is located in Northeast Nebraska’s Antelope County. 

Vickie Vargas, 25, formerly of Missouri Valley, and her 30-year-old husband, Alex, had been laboring hard to come up with a sufficient amount of funds because they wanted to move back to the Omaha, Neb., area from rural Antelope County, Neb. She was planning on continuing her collegiate education. 

The newlywed still had not officially changed her name from Victoria Lee to Victoria Vargas, even though the couple had gotten married in Holt County, Neb., Oct. 22, according to marriage records from the Holt County Clerk’s Office. Alex and Vickie were planning to purchase wedding rings for Christmas and had intended to spend the holiday season and Vickie’s birthday – Dec. 31 – with her relatives in Missouri Valley. 

However, the couple will never have a chance to see their plans come to fruition because of a terrible tragedy this past weekend that took their lives. 

What Happened

According to a copyrighted story in The Neligh (Neb.) News and Leader, Antelope County Attorney Joe Abler said he learned that the victims’ families have been notified and released the formal names of the double-homicide victims Monday morning, Dec. 10.

“The victims have been identified as Victoria D. Lee, 25, originally from Missouri Valley, Iowa, and Gabino A. Vargas, 30, previously of Omaha, Neb.,” he said. 

Abler said their cause of death is still unknown. The bodies of the victims were transported to St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City. 

“The St. Luke’s forensics unit planned to schedule the autopsies for Monday or Tuesday,” he said, adding that the cause of death could possibly be determined by mid-week. 

According to the Nebraska State Patrol, an early morning fire at a trailer house in Antelope County led law enforcement to the discovery of two bodies and the arrest of Matthew Hinrichsen, 33, of Ewing. Hinrichsen was brought in for questioning and then was arrested. 

Hinrichsen has been charged with:

- Two counts of first-degree murder, Class I felonies; 

- Two counts of use of a weapon to commit a felony, Class IC felonies; and 

- One count of arson in the first degree, a Class II felony.

According to The Neligh News and Leader, Hinrichsen was scheduled to appear in Antelope County Court Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 11. As of Tuesday morning, Hinrichsen was still being held at the Madison County Jail in Madison, Neb., without bond. 

The Lee family said Alex and Vickie knew Hinrichsen. However, they said Monday evening, Dec. 10, that they did not want speak about the investigation into the Vargases’ deaths. 

According to The Neligh News and Leader, Abler declined to release the relationship between the victims and the suspect because it is an ongoing investigation. However, he did encourage the public to contact the Nebraska State Patrol at 402-471-4545 with any information involving the case. 

Just after midnight Saturday, according to the Nebraska State Patrol, the Antelope County Communications Center received a 911 call about a domestic dispute – possibly involving weapons – at a home in rural Antelope County, Neb. Deputies from the Antelope and Holt County Sheriff’s Offices, along with troopers from the Nebraska State Patrol, responded to the scene. 

As authorities were approaching the area of the initial call, the communications center informed them that the Ewing Fire Department was responding to a 911 call of a fire in the same vicinity – about two-and-a-half miles east of Ewing at 50192 857th Rd. Upon arrival at the scene, deputies found a mobile home engulfed in flames. 

A man who escaped the burning trailer house told deputies that two people possibly were still inside. Once the fire was extinguished, two bodies were discovered in a bedroom in the southwest corner of the residence.  

According to The Neligh News and Leader, Abler said the man who escaped the blaze was Francisco Gomez, who also worked at the Fry Dairy farm, which owns the mobile home, in rural Ewing with Alex Vargas. Gomez, who lived in the mobile home with the Vargases, fled the trailer house without being injured and was released after questioning. 

Around 1 a.m. Saturday, according to the Nebraska State Patrol, sheriff’s deputies responded to a residence in rural Ewing, where they took Hinrichsen into custody in connection with the fire and deaths of the two people in the mobile home. The Nebraska State Patrol, the Antelope County Attorney’s Office, the Antelope and Holt County Sheriff’s Offices and the Nebraska State Fire Marshal are working together on the case; the cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

The Missouri Valley Connection

The families of Alex and Vickie Vargas are intending to hold shared funeral services for the couple. Funeral services are pending at Hennessey-Aman Funeral Home in Missouri Valley.  

According to information from the Lee family, Vickie was born in Kearney, Neb. They moved to Missouri Valley when she was about six years old. 

Don Lee, Vickie’s father, said his daughter graduated from Missouri Valley High School in 2005 and became a member of the Missouri Valley City Council. Vickie served one four-year term on the council. 

“She knocked on every door in Missouri Valley,” he said. “She cared about each citizen and took notes on each concern.” 

Missouri Valley City Clerk/Administrator Rita Miller said Vickie served on the City Council from January 2006 to December 2009 and was the youngest person to ever serve on the council in Missouri Valley’s history as far as she knows. 

“We got to know each other pretty well while she was running her campaign and in office,” she said. “If she knew something was going on within the city, she would check into the issue. She would have information and research done and ready to discuss at a council meeting.” 

Deb Earleywine, the executive director of the Missouri Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Vickie always made a point of approaching and greeting her when they saw each other at various events around Missouri Valley. She added that she had known Vickie for about three years.

“I knew her when she was a councilwoman,” she said. “She also helped us at a couple of Halloween Parades. She was always very friendly and nice and seemed concerned about getting good things done for Missouri Valley.” 

Rita said Vickie had just stopped by her office Tuesday, Dec. 4, to discuss her future and ask for a letter of recommendation detailing her time on the City Council. 

“Energetic, committed, open-minded,” she said of Vickie. “She was very involved and just a great person.” 

Don said Vickie attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) while she served on the City Council and had obtained a handful of odd jobs to help pay for her education. He added that she just needed to finish a few more courses to complete her degree in political science; she recently had just gone back to her job at UNO Food Services and intended to begin classes again in January.

“She was going to finish up her education next semester,” he said. 

Susan Lee, Vickie’s mother, said Vickie and Alex, a native of Mexico, had met at a dance club and had started hanging out about a year ago. They loved all kinds of dancing, especially ballroom dancing. 

“Vickie was the happiest she had ever been in her life,” she said. “She was so in love with her husband.” 

Don said Alex was a great match for Vickie. 

“Alex was a super guy, a happy individual,” he said. “He was happy to meet her and they had so many shared interests. He definitely loved his family and really wanted to move to Omaha when they had the money.”

Alex had resided in the Omaha area for about a dozen years before he moved to Antelope County. Susan said he had less than 14 days left at his job at Fry Dairy there and had been searching for work in Omaha.

Susan said the couple had intended on moving to Omaha after celebrating the holidays and Vickie’s birthday on New Year’s Eve in Missouri Valley. 

“They were going to get their own place in January,” she said. 

Don said Vickie was planning on eventually joining the U.S. Air Force as an officer. He added that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also were recruiting her heavily.

“She meshed with people from around the world,” he said. 

Susan said her daughter liked to call herself “The Coffee Lady” because she enjoyed serving coffee to customers at her UNO job. She added that Vickie dreamed of having her own food establishment someday – after she had served in the Air Force – where she could serve coffee to patrons.

“She and Alex wanted their own restaurant,” she said. 

Don said Vickie made many connections during her life and had many, many friends. She attended Girls State while she was in high school and served as a Senate Page for the Iowa Legislature from October 2004 to May 2005 during her senior year of high school. 

While Vickie was attending UNO, she made such an impression on the university leaders that they wanted to get to know her personally, Don said. She also rubbed shoulders with politicians from both Iowa and Nebraska and from both major political parties.

“Everyone knew her and wanted to know her,” he said. “She was an absolutely wonderful person – friendly and outgoing.” 

Vickie is survived by her parents, Don and Susan Lee, of Missouri Valley; sister, Brittany Lee, of Missouri Valley; and brother, Donald Lee, of Missouri Valley; and grandparents, Donald and June Lee, of Troutman, N.C., and William Manfull, of Gibbon, Neb.

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