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'So out of left field': Family remembers Phoenix mother, children murdered on Christmas Day 2017

Anthony Milan Ross was arrested in the death of his ex-wife, Iris Ross, and his two children, Nigel and Anora. He's set for trial next year.

It was a holiday horror right in the heart of central Phoenix.

Three years ago, on Christmas Day, a mother, her son and her baby girl were all shot to death.  

"He was a really, really cool kid," says Mary Wojas, talking about her 11-year-old nephew Nigel.

She remembers his big personality, that landed him on a stage, performing with his peers.

"An up and coming amazing performer."

When Wojas thinks back about her baby niece Anora, she can't help but smile.

"She was so stinking cute."

And when she thinks about their mother, her sister, Iris Ross.

"She would go out of her way to make your day better," Wojas says. "There was just no stopping her. Her ambition was always through the roof."

Iris and her kids were shot to death Christmas Day in 2017. Her ex-husband and the children’s father, Anthony Milan Ross, is accused of killing them all. He was arrested that day after an hours-long barricade situation with police.

"It was so out of left field," Wojas explains. "She’s just not somebody you think that this would happen to."

Wojas says her sister and Milan were newly divorced at the time. Milan was a vegan author who spoke openly about his weight loss, even sharing his journey with 12 News less than two months before his alleged shooting spree.

"Iris never thought he would hurt his children," Wojas says.

On Christmas Day in 2017, Iris went to Milan's home near 16th Street and Highland Avenue to pick up her kids after they spent Christmas Eve with their father.  Social media reveals Milan shared a video with his son hours before the shootings, wishing people a Merry Christmas.

"I think for anyone to do something like this, they are definitely a very sick, sick person."

Milan has been in jail since the shooting. Court records show he's set for a trial in February.

As Mary prepares for another Christmas without her big sister, she reflects on the toll it's taken on her family.

"Of course it shook us up, of course it did," she tells. "It is definitely hard. I’ll never get over that part, missing her. Oh my gosh."

12 News learned in 2017 that he had a previous family in Missouri who claimed he "abandoned" them. Wojas says she hasn't been able to talk with Milan while he's been in jail to try and understand what happened.  

"It was challenging for me," she shares.  "My son was three when this happened. He’s six now. So he didn’t understand the context of why Aunt Iris was gone and his cousin Nigel and baby Anora. He didn’t understand what happened."

But over time, in the sadness, she's found some serenity.  It's forced her own young family to be open about grieving

"It’s been an open conversation we’ve had. An ability to see grace and love develop in my 6-year-old son," Wojas says.  "The blessing we’ve been able to unwrap from this has given us a lot and strengthened us as a family," she explains.  

She has two children of her own, a son and a daughter.  She and Iris were pregnant with their daughters at the same time.

"Even though it didn’t work out the way anyone expected, it was still lovely to have great big bellies together," she says with a smile.

Wojas says each Christmas becomes a little easier and she chooses to focus on the way her sister led her life.  She says Iris was inspired by Mother Theresa and was always reading books about her.  She worked at St. Joseph's hospital in Phoenix and has been deeply missed by her colleagues there.

"If you never met Iris, I would tell somebody get ready to meet someone who is very authentic, very funny."  Wojas tells. "She had a way to make you feel very comfortable. She actively listens to you."

In each passing day, she tries to channel her sister's kindness and giving spirit and set an example for her own children.

"I definitely feel like she would want us to move on and take her love with us."

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