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Triple murder in small Pennsylvania town baffles police

Friday, May 25, 2007

If it weren't for the murders of the Amish schoolgirls last fall, these might be the most disturbing homicides Lancaster County, Pa., has ever seen.

Two weeks ago, a young woman woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of a scuffle in her home on a quiet street in the idyllic Blossom Hill section of the county.

She went to her parents' upstairs bedroom and found both stabbed repeatedly. Down the hall, unseen, her younger brother was dying of similar stab wounds.

"Go get help," her mother whispered.

The daughter ran across the street and called 911, but by the time ambulances arrived, all three victims were dead.

Police have no clear suspects and are reminding residents to lock their doors at night and keep as many lights on as possible. They have asked for assistance from the FBI.

The county coroner is suggesting a "psychotic killer" may be on the loose.

And so once again, the postcard-perfect farmland communities of Lancaster -- the bucolic home of the agrarian Amish -- are steeped in shock, grief and fear.

At a church memorial service Saturday, a relative of the murdered couple raised the troubling question on many people's minds when he implored the killer to come forward and seek forgiveness.

"I say this to you, knowing that the killer of our loved ones might be in the audience today," Tom Brown told congregants from the pulpit of the Otterbein United Methodist Church last Saturday, according to the Lancaster Sunday News.

Blossom Hill Murders

On May 12, 20-year-old Bucknell University student Margaret Haines woke up to the sounds of a commotion in her home on Peach Lane and got out of bed to investigate. She went to her parents' upstairs bedroom and found her father lying on the bed and her mother sitting on its edge.

Her mother was able to calmly tell her daughter to leave and get help, authorities said. She reportedly didn't see her brother's body lying in the hallway. All three died of stab wounds, according to the Manheim Township police. They said the back door was open and there were no signs of forced entry.

Manheim Police Sgt. Thomas Rudzinski said Thursday that they have not turned up any evidence that would indicate that anybody wanted to hurt Thomas Haines, 50, a salesman at a local industrial supply company, his wife Lisa, 47, a pre-school teacher, or their 16-year-old son Kevin.

"He was about to become an Eagle Scout," Rudzinski said ruefully. "He was a good kid."

He said the murder weapon has not been located.

"At this point we are looking at all options," Rudzinski said. "We don't know if this is random or targeted."

Lisa Haines' nephew Lucas Brown told ABC News that his family is coping as best they can.

"It's been okay now, after the funeral and everything's gotten over with, it's starting to get a little better," he said. "But it's still a little scary knowing he's still out there."

History of Violence

Remarkable, uncharacteristic bursts of murder have haunted Lancaster County in recent years.

The county made national headlines in 2005 when a teenager ambushed and murdered Michael and Cathryn Borden in their home in Lititz, and kidnapped their 14-year-old daughter Kara Beth. An amber alert was issued as word spread quickly through the county. It was later determined that David Ludwig, 18, Kara Beth's boyfriend, had killed the parents because they ordered him to stop seeing their daughter. Ludwig pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal homicide and is serving a life sentence in prison.

Then last fall, a local milkman named Charles Roberts walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in a small Lancaster town called Nickel Mines and held 10 young girls hostage before opening fire on them, killing five and wounding five, before shooting himself to death.

'Scared Out of Their Wits'

"The coroner of Lancaster County used to be a part-time job taken by a general practitioner who did it sort of on the side," Lancaster County coroner Gary Kirchner told ABC News. "We've gone way beyond that."

Kirchner said the Haines murders are as troubling and unexpected as the Amish schoolhouse shooting.

"The thing that attracts the human mind are contrasts," he said. "Here is a gorgeous fall day ... beautiful fields, great clear blue skies. And in the middle of all of it sits a humble, one room Amish schoolhouse, trashed and bloodied and with bodies in it. That is what the human mind has trouble getting around. We've been subjected to that contrast over and over again here in Lancaster."

Kirchner visited the Blossom Hill crime scene and examined the bodies. He declined to comment on either the crime scene or his preliminary conclusions, but indicated that depth of violence when he said the Haines murders were "another level of horror."

"Does this have the markings of a psychotic killer? Sure, it's got a lot of the markings of a psychotic killer," Kirchner said.

There was no apparent robbery or any clear motivation for such a violent series of attacks, he said. But police say they have no clear motive or suspect yet and no reason to concur with the coroner's speculation. Sergeant Rudzinski added that he strongly disagrees with Kirchner.

"We have not drawn than conclusion from the information with have,'' Rudzinski said.

Kirchner said that besides the Amish schoolhouse shooting, these killings are the "worst I've seen" since he was a naval officer in Vietnam.

"I was a surgeon for 38 years, and a trauma surgeon for 10 of those," he said. "When I took this job, I never thought it would be anything like this. Nobody in the county can believe this sort of thing would happen here. The people of Lancaster are scared out of their wits."

Safe At School

Marcie Brody, a spokeswoman for the Manheim School District, where victim Kevin Haines was a well-regarded quiz champion, agreed.

The students are "shocked, they're terrified, and they're in the middle of final exams," she said, referring to the high school students.

1,750 of the approximately 5,500 students in the district schools attend Manheim High School.

"We're telling them they're definitely safe coming to school, and we're finding out they feel safe at school," she said. "It's just when they're home at night."

Brody said extra guidance counselors and security were brought in to the schools in the wake of the homicides, and that experts are working with parents to identify signs of trauma in the children.

"It's the community itself, not just the students. Everybody's still on edge."

She said she's even gotten calls from community residents unaffiliated with the school, seeking out guidance counselors and other mental health professionals.

'Everyone Is Locking Their Doors'

Local security firms are feeling the impact too.

"We've been slammed," said Patrick Egan, president of Select Security and former president of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association. "Our sales for residential security systems are up about 800 percent. We normally do four or five residential systems a week, but we've sold 35 to 40 systems in the last two weeks.

"The awareness has been raised," he said. "You're not seeing as many garage doors open when you drive through a neighborhood. Everyone is locking their doors. People are very, very concerned that there is a killer or killers on the loose in Lancaster County."

He said customers are adding deadbolts to their doors and installing floodlights.

"They're not concerned about possessions," he said. "They're not saying that at all. This is a personal protection system they want. They're scared, they're paranoid, they're fearful."

Despite Fear, 'God Is With Us'

Blossom Hill Mennonite Church Pastor Jane Peifer said she is counseling congregants and community members who seek her guidance to find strength and faith in numbers.

"There's really no way that we can say there's nothing to be afraid of, because there is," she said. "This is extremely frightening to have this kind of trauma that's unsolved. The police are telling you to leave the lights on and lock the doors. It's foolish to say there's nothing to be afraid of, but I somehow believe that God is with us through all hard times in life."

Peifer said she was in the midst of writing her sermon for Sunday's services.

"I was just reflecting on how being with each other is so encouraging and strengthening. In my experience, [being together] is the greatest comfort, and one in which I've very often experienced the presence of God."

Anonymous Tipster Sought

Police have been inundated with tips to the county Crimestoppers line, but one tip in particular got the authorities' full attention last Thursday. A caller dialed into the tip line and provided some information that "investigators felt might be valuable," Rudzinski told ABC News, declining to elaborate.

"But in this particular case, the [caller] gave some quick information and then hung up before we could ask questions or assign them a number that would enable them to collect a reward later should their information help lead to an arrest.

"We have literally no way of identifying this person, so we can't even go public and say, 'Number five, please call us.'"

Rudzinski said police need the public's help on this case.

"We continue to look for information on the family members, any background information, anything of importance about this family, or about the homicides, we are very interested in hearing," he said. "We are still trying to work up a victimology on each of these victims -- their backgrounds, their interests. Anybody who has any information that they think might be helpful should get in contact with us."

Rudzinski urged anyone with any information to contact Manheim Township police at (717)-569-6401. He said the phones are staffed around the clock.

New Reward Money Sought

In the wake of the murders, Lancaster's Crimestoppers program posted a $1,000 reward but on Thursday, Manheim Township commissioners approved the creation of an account to solicit donations to a rewards fund. Rudzinski said that the contributions to the rewards fund should be sent to Manheim Township, Attention: Finance Director, 1840 Municipal Drive, Lancaster, PA, 17601. Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

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