CAMDEN, N.J. – There have been shootings on Princess Avenue before, but residents of the close-knit block say they've never felt tragedy like they did this week, when a longtime neighbor killed his wife, mother-in-law and two of his grown children before committing suicide.
Neighbors say the family seemed close, that they were never heard arguing and that they would often pile into a minivan to run errands together.
"They're very loving people," said Lucille Eleazer, who lives next door to the home the family occupied for more than 20 years.
For authorities, the killings are a tragedy, but not much of a mystery. The shooter, 54-year-old Luis Cruz, a one-time variety store owner known to friends as "Fred," was dead by the time police arrived.
But on Tuesday, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office released an account of what happened, based largely on what investigators were told by two of Cruz's grandchildren, the only people in the house Monday afternoon who were not killed.
It started with an argument between Cruz and his wife, Anna Paulino, 57, although authorities said they did not know exactly what it was about.
The dispute escalated when Cruz broke a dish. After that, his 30-year-old son Felix, a motorcycle-obsessed cab driver who lived with his parents, told the patriarch to leave the house.
He did not.
Instead, both men went upstairs in the family's row home and kept arguing. The older man had a 9 mm handgun with him when he came back down.
Police say he locked the front door — which was usually left wide open — then shot his son. He then opened fire on his wife, who neighbors said assisted him with his stores; her 81-year-old mother, Mary Paulino; and his own daughter, 33-year-old home-health aid Marisol Cruz, before killing himself.
At one point, he stopped to reload his gun. All told, he fired 16 bullets.
Marisol Cruz's 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter then unlocked the door and ran across the street to a neighbor's home.
The neighbors said that Cruz and Paulino's younger daughter, who was not home at the time of the shooting, plans to raise the two children and their younger brother along with her own two kids.
"Whatever she decides to do, we'll be here for her," said neighbor Laverne Wyche, who said the block is more like a family than mere neighbors.
Princess Avenue is a side street in the Parkside neighborhood that has been an especially dangerous place this year. Earlier this year, there were three slayings within a little over a block of the Cruz family's home. By Tuesday, there had been 43 homicides in Camden in 2008 — one more than in all of 2007 in a city that ranks as among the nation's poorest and most-crime ridden.
Yet the neighborhood has remained a place where neighbors would keep an eye on each other's kids and where once each summer the street would be closed for a block party where everyone's kitchen table was moved outside laden with picnic fare.
The Wyche family said the women of the neighborhood would gather on their porch or the Cruz-Paulino family's steps every day, depending on which was in the shade. Mary Paulino, a native of the Dominican Republic whom neighbors said never learned English, was always parked in a chair on her family's porch waving to passers-by.
Even on Tuesday, a day after a killing, some children were playing on the sidewalks and the small patches of grass at some properties.
"It takes a village to raise a family," said Gail Wyche. "We're the village."