(News-Press.com) - A San Carlos Park man called quiet, kind and gentle by neighbors shot and killed his wife and three daughters before turning the gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide Sunday morning, police say.
Residents of the middle-class neighborhood at Phlox and Winged Foot drives were shocked when they awoke Sunday to find Lee County Sheriff's Office cars blocking their streets and deputies and detectives asking questions.
Laurie Gretten lives across from the murder-suicide scene at 17372 Phlox Drive and said there had been a party at the home overnight that was rather loud.
"Around 2 a.m. the music was turned up as high as it would go, and I was about to call the cops when it suddenly cut off," she said. She added she heard no gunfire and did not know anything was amiss until two Lee sheriff's detectives knocked on her door.
Another neighbor said he knew the man as Sonny and loaned him tools. According to information from the Lee County Property Appraiser's website, the home was owned by Sonny E. Medina and Maria Navas.
A cousin of Sonny Medina, Oscar Aguilera, 41, of Roxboro, N.C., confirmed the family deaths.
"My aunt just called, I don't know what they're going to do," he said. "Sonny was just here on vacation two months ago. He was a cool guy. He was my best cousin. We have no idea what happened."
He said Medina was Honduran.
Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott came to the scene Sunday afternoon to provide details.
Scott said a Spanish-speaking man called the sheriff's office at approximately 2:25 a.m. Sunday. Scott did not release details of the call.
"Our deputies found a horrific and unthinkable scene here," he said, adding that it was one of the worst he has seen and contrasted it to the Damas family murders in 2009. "In essence, a mass killing," he said.
Mesac Damas killed his wife and five children in North Naples. He still awaits trial.
The sheriff said deputies believe the three girls ages 2 to 10 and the mother were executed. "And then the father, we believe the evidence leads us to believe at this point, the father then was the final death in taking his own life."
The sheriff said that the oldest girl was Medina's stepchild.
"It was an absolutely horrific set of circumstances," he said.
As investigators gathered information throughout the day, talking to neighbors, reporters and camera crews milled around at the scene.
A friend of the family arrived at the home around 6 p.m. He sank to his knees while talking to deputies. He clasped his hands over his eyes as he yelled, falling onto his back, crying.
"All of the girls, all of the girls were killed," he could be heard yelling into his phone in Spanish a short while later.
Another friend dropped off white flowers.
Scott said the home and family seemed to be an "everyday USA home" with a minivan in the driveway and no prior issues of a criminal nature reported. "Nothing really remarkable about this home," he said. "Children's pictures on the refrigerator, toys around the house, etc."
Scott confirmed that a gun was recovered.
"Something snapped," Scott said about the father. "It went terribly wrong.
He didn't not release the names of the family members.
There was evidence of a party at the house, Scott said, with garbage cans filled with empty beer containers in front of the house.
The sheriff said that investigators were aware of the Saturday night party. "We are looking into other things about that," he said.
The remains of the family are being taken to the District 21 Medical Examiner's office for autopsies.
Gretten, the cross-street neighbor, said she did not know the family's name but that everybody waved to each other and there was no yelling or screaming.
"The girls were very beautiful. They were the nicest people; my husband talked to the man," she said. "They looked happy to us. They were totally quiet. He was washing cars last weekend."
Gettern said the only out-of-ordinary thing was a party two weeks ago and then Saturday night, into Sunday morning.
"The music was loud week before last. I wanted to call the cops," she said.
Other neighbors, Richard and Debbie Packard, knew the family from seeing the girls ride their bikes along Phlox and from the husband borrowing Richard Packard's tools.
"His name was Sonny, but he said that wasn't his real name," Richard Packard said. "He was a nice guy. He'd borrow tools from me to work on his cars."
"She was quiet and didn't speak much English," Debbie Packard said.
Richard Packard said the family had become somewhat reclusive. The party Saturday night was unusual, he said. "There were six cars there. You never saw that," he said.
Richard Packard also said that the girls' grandmother had lived at the home. There was no information about her whereabouts Sunday night.
Richard Packard said that Medina told him shortly." before the holidays last year that he was afraid he was going to be laid-off from his job at The Salvation Army.
"He was concerned he was going to lose his job," he said. Around Christmas he said they were cutting back. I hadn't talked to him in a while."
Medina was still working for The Salvation Army in Lee County, Maj. Tom Louden said.