Ohio man charged in deaths of Michigan sisters

A search that began over the weekend continued Monday for a 38-year-old Ohio man charged in the fatal shootings of his ex-girlfriend and her sister and the wounding of their mother in southeastern Michigan.

Michigan State Police said Monday that Thomas Fritz of Sylvania, Ohio, faces two counts of open murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder in Lenawee County. He's accused of killing 24-year-old Lisa Gritzmaker and 33-year-old Amy Merrill. Police say he also wounded their mother, 52-year-old Robin Lynn McCowan.

All were shot late Friday night in Blissfield, about 20 miles northwest of Toledo, Ohio. Police found the women at a home after responding to a 911 call from one of the victims.

McCowan is hospitalized, and police say she is recovering from surgery.

Police said they consider Fritz to be armed and dangerous. They believe he is driving a burgundy or maroon 2002 Honda four-door vehicle with Ohio plates.

A woman who answered the phone at a Sylvania, Ohio, listing for Fritz declined to comment.

Fritz was indicted on one count of sexual battery in 2005, convicted by a jury a year later in April 2006 and sentenced to a year in state prison, according to the Ohio prisons agency and court records. A judge also deemed Fritz a sexually oriented offender in May 2006, and Fritz's name and photo appears on the Lucas County, Ohio, sex offender registry.

The fireworks had just ended at an annual summer festival in Blissfield and residents were still dispersing when authorities were called to Merrill's home late Friday night.

Neighbors told The Associated Press on Monday that she and Fritz had lived in the white two-story house on a corner for about six months with two of her children and a young child they had together. The children are staying with family, police said.

Michigan State Police Lt. Sean Furlong said Merrill had ended her relationship with Fritz within the past three weeks, though the home remained a residence for him. Furlong said Fritz was using a different name that police declined to release while living in Michigan, which likely was tied to his probation in Ohio.

Crime scene tape that surrounded the house had been removed by Monday, though cars still slowed as they drove by. A child-sized plastic picnic table sat on a back deck.

The killings left a gloomy mood over the village during what's normally one of its most festive weekends, but by Monday life in the farming community seemed to be going on despite the unease. A man rode alone on a tandem bicycle through the quaint business district, teens rode bikes and skateboards down the middle of residential streets and toddlers splashed in the water at a public swimming pool.

Kevin Holt, who works at a local auto parts plant, said that the town won't feel fully at ease until Fritz is caught: "Every person that comes by, I'm looking at," he said.

"It's a small community — most people know who each other are," said Shellie LaTour, a local bartender who knew the victims by sight. "It's extremely shocking. The whole town, there's just this solemn, eerie feeling. You just don't know how to think and feel."


Jeff Karoub reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed from Columbus, Ohio.