LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. – A man killed his brother Monday with sniper fire from a second-floor window in the home they shared, took down a neighbor who came to the victim's aid and turned the gun on himself, police said.
Authorities said there was no obvious motive for the shootings, in a housing development not far from police headquarters in Little Egg Harbor.
"At this point it's just a mystery," Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said. "We're as shocked at this as anyone else. It makes no sense."
Ford said the gunman, 45-year-old Craig Mueller, shot and killed his brother, Bryan Mueller, 52, from a perch inside his second-floor window shortly after 10 a.m. Ford said residents throughout the neighborhood reported a barrage of rapid-fire gunshots.
As Bryan Mueller lay mortally wounded on the ground outside, a neighbor, 21-year-old Cara Ellis ran to his aid. She, too was cut down by gunfire, the prosecutor said.
About four hours later, after sending in police dogs and a SWAT team, authorities found Craig Mueller dead in a second-floor room of the home he shared with his brother. Shell casings were strewn about the floor, and the weapon believed to have been used in the shootings, a Colt .223 long-arm rifle, was found near his body.
Police locked down schools and blocked off roads in Little Egg Harbor as they searched for the gunman, and residents near the shooting at the Tall Timbers housing development some 35 miles northeast of Atlantic City were told to evacuate.
Lisa Santana, who lives near the shooting scene, said the sound of gunfire jolted her out of bed.
"I was sleeping in my bed and I heard gunshots — five of them, maybe 10. Oh, my God," she said.
She looked outside and saw a man's body on the pavement. Within minutes, police were knocking on her door, telling her she had to evacuate for her safety.
She took refuge at the municipal building, where she was worried about her son, a seventh-grade student at a school nearby.
Schools in the district locked down to prevent students from leaving. But children were being taught in classes as usual while police sought the gunman.
Graham Heald was in telephone contact with his girlfriend, who lives in the housing development where the shootings took place. He would not name her.
"She said she heard gunfire, and opened our sliding door and she could smell the gunpowder," Heald said. "She said the houses across the street had bullet holes in them. I told her to get to the center of the house into the bathtub, and if she heard anymore gunfire, to crouch down into the bathtub."
Heald said his girlfriend reported hearing additional gunshots around 1:30 p.m.
Authorities said they did not know of any disagreement between the two brothers that might have precipitated the killings. They also said Ellis was not known to either of the brothers.
"She was a good Samaritan who was trying to run to the assistance" of Bryan Mueller, Ford said.
The prosecutor said authorities do not believe anyone else was involved and told residents by late afternoon that they could return to their homes.