Authorities: Man kills 4, himself in Camden

September 1, 2008 8:20:47 PM PDT
A 54-year-old man killed four relatives and himself in his home on Monday after his family quarreled and two children there found safety in a neighbor's house, authorities said. The Camden County Prosecutor's Office on Monday did not release the names of the dead in what was the biggest mass-killing in at least a decade in this city that always ranks among the nation's most dangerous.

But unlike a large portion of slayings in the city near Philadelphia, this one does not appear to be related to illegal drugs.

Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said neighbors heard shots ring out a little after 5 p.m.

When police arrived at the Princess Avenue duplex next to a boarded-up home, women ages 81 and 33 years old and a 30-year-old man were found dead in the dining room and kitchen. The shooter and a 57-year-old woman, were taken to Cooper University Hospital, where they too were pronounced dead.

Laughlin said the weapon was a handgun.

Two children, ages 7 and 10, ran to a neighbor's home as the shooting started, Laughlin said. They were being interviewed by police and it was not immediately clear who would care for them, Laughlin said.

Laughlin said the family relationships were not clear to investigators - and neither was who lived in the home. He said police had been called to the home in June, but he did not immediately know why.

Neighbors were not certain who lived there either, because the family was so close and four generations gathered there daily.

Wanda Wiche, a neighbor, said the family had lived there for more than 20 years, by her estimate, and were adored. "They were a beautiful family," she said. "So close."

She said she found it odd that Monday afternoon when she said hello to the man in his 50s, he said nothing.

"I'm really in a state of shock," she said, as she returned home from work to find her street, a jovial place with end-of-summer barbecues going on when she left, full of police and cordoned off by yellow crime-scene tape when she got home a few hours later.

Juan Peralta, 31, was one of dozens of people trying to understand what had happened in the home. He said the 30-year-old male victim was Felix Cruz, a friend of his since they attended Camden High School together 15 years ago.

Peralta said he spent time with Cruz's family as a youngster.

His father was a quiet man who once owned a corner store and was happy to lend his son his car, he said, and his mother was always cooking for the family.

Felix Cruz went on to become a cabdriver, Cruz said.

"This is horrible to see," he said. "The devil don't sleep."

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