Argument may have led to NJ deaths of parents, tot

August 17, 2011 6:43:05 PM PDT
A family argument may have been the trigger for a young man accused of stabbing his parents and his 3-year-old niece to death in their home, investigators said Wednesday.

Carlos P. Campos of Harrison was charged with three counts of murder and unlawful possession of a weapon for the fatal stabbings of 56-year-old Carlos Campos-Trinidad, 58-year-old Ruth Pereira and 3-year-old Gabriella Morales.

Hudson County prosecutor Edward DeFazio said Campos stabbed the victims Tuesday morning in the family's home in Harrison before walking to a nearby police station and speaking to police, who discovered the bodies.

The 23-year-old Campos was arrested at the station and is being held on $3 million bail. He didn't make a scheduled first court appearance Wednesday because he was undergoing a mental health evaluation at a Jersey City hospital, DeFazio said.

The child's mother, Campos' sister - or possibly half-sister - was traveling in Haiti with a mission group and hadn't been notified as of early Wednesday of her parents' and daughter's death. The toddler's father, who is separated from the girl's mother, has been notified, DeFazio said.

There was some evidence that the younger Campos may have argued or had an altercation with his father before the stabbings, DeFazio said. Each victim had been stabbed at least once in the neck with a knife, DeFazio said.

Friends and neighbors described the couple as hardworking, church-going immigrants who immigrated to New Jersey more than 20 years ago from Belo Horizonte, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, where much of the large Brazilian population in Harrison, and neighboring Newark, are from.

A small but growing shrine was leaned against the family's 3-story vinyl-sided home, with religious votive candles, two stuffed animals and a bouquet of red roses and white carnations.

News of the killings spread rapidly through the heavily Portuguese and Brazilian immigrant neighborhood known as The Ironbound in Newark, where the family attended church.

Joao Abreu, who described the elder Campos as one of his closest friends, said they met years ago as part of a tight-knit group of Brazilian laborers who specialize in high-altitude work, painting, welding and repairing bridges and water towers. He said Campos had retired after a back injury and was collecting disability, but often helped Abreu's brother with odd jumps such as welding, plumbing or fixing cars and came to their house nearly every day.

"I still can't believe it," Abreu said of Campos' death. "I went to sleep at 3 a.m. last night, I was so upset. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and still couldn't believe it."

Abreu said the elder Campos was a laid-back, easygoing man who spoke of his love for his son and his stepdaughter, the mother of his granddaughter, whom he doted on and often baby-sat for. Abreu said Campos never spoke of having problems with his son, who had recently gotten his bounty hunter's license but had become depressed at being unable to find steady work.

Abreu said Campos' wife was the one with the temper, describing her as a deeply religious woman who attended church several days a week but constantly hounded Campos and their son, often pounding on Abreu's door and screaming in the street for her husband to come home.

"He was always calm, he never raised his voice, but he complained to us privately that she always humiliated him," Abreu said.

Abreu said he was shocked by the killings and wanted to visit the younger Campos in jail as soon as possible.

"I just want answers," he said.