Murder-Suicide Claims 3 in Family
By JANET WILSON, MAI TRAN and MONTE MORIN
A Lake Forest man described as a devout churchgoer shot and killed his wife and 15-year-old nephew as they prepared for work and school Monday, then fired a bullet into the chest of his toddler daughter before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.
The apparent murder-suicide happened between 7 and 8 a.m. in Cedar Glen, a complex of wood-frame apartments on Trabuco Road. The shootings shocked friends and relatives of the deceased, who described them as a typical, loving family. But authorities said there were marriage strains and that the couple were talking about splitting up.
Police identified the shooter as Thomas Lewis Turner, 39, an employee of Cal-Cen Federal Credit Union in Anaheim. The bodies of Thomas Turner and his wife, Acedra Renee Turner, 39, were discovered in one bedroom of their two-story apartment. A small-caliber handgun lay at the husband's side. Their nephew Broderick Turner, a popular freshman football player at El Toro High School who had lived with the family, was found in another bedroom. Police did not release the name of the Turners' 22-month-old daughter, who was shot in the chest as she lay in her crib. The toddler was listed in stable condition at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo after surgery Monday afternoon. Authorities said the bullet apparently tore through the girl's chest, missing major organs.
Authorities were alerted to the shooting when Acedra Turner's mother tried to call her at work Monday morning. When Freddie Kessee failed to reach her daughter at EME Fan and Motor in Brea, she grew concerned. When she failed to reach her son-in-law as well and learned from Broderick's school that the boy, who rarely missed school, was absent, she called police.
Orange County sheriff's deputies arrived about 10 a.m. to find the apartment's blinds drawn and the front door bolted, sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. Deputies borrowed a ladder from a neighbor to look through the apartment's second-story window and, through a gap in the blinds, saw the wounded child in the crib. Deputies then broke through the front door.
Neighbors began to learn of the shooting as they heard Kessee screaming into her cell phone in front of the house.
"The screams were just echoing," said neighbor Monique Acero, 30. "She was yelling, 'He killed her! They're all dead! All of them are dead!' "
The couple had been married about four years and were often seen barbecuing by the apartment's pool or leaving for services at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Santa Ana, according to neighbors.
Van D. Roberson, pastor of the nearby Greater Light Baptist Church and also a member of St. James church, said he had known the Turners for about 10 years. Thomas Turner was a trustee at the Santa Ana church, he said, and Acedra Turner was an usher.
"She was sweet as pie," Roberson said. "She was mannered, responsible and so shy. When you'd try to hug her, she'd just smile and turn away."
The family attended church together Sunday, and other members said they saw nothing amiss.
"They were outgoing and friendly as usual," said Linda McLeod of Santa Ana, who has attended St. James for 21 years. "But you never know what a person is holding within."
The couple always appeared devoted to each other at Sunday services as well as periodic church picnics and fund-raisers, McLeod said.
"Whenever you saw them, they were always doing something helpful for those in need," she said. "Like if a child said they wanted a particular kind of toy but their parents couldn't buy it, the Turners would make sure the child had it the next week."
Yet one neighbor described ominous sounds from the Turners' home.
Anna Troupe, 35, said she sometimes heard Acedra Turner screaming from the apartment before dawn.
"She'd wake me up in the middle of the night," Troupe said. "She screamed like she was being hurt. The woman would be hysterically screaming her head off.... Sometimes I could hear her scream, 'Stop it!' "
Sheriff's spokesman Amormino said there was no record of domestic disturbances at the Turners' address.
News of Broderick Turner's death sent shock waves through El Toro High School. Although students were not told immediately of the boy's death, teachers were. One of them was so stunned by the news that she had to leave, Principal Jack Clement said.
"We're just in shock," Clement said. "He was a pleasant kid to be around, just delightful."
Authorities said Monday evening that Thomas Turner had a 17-year-old son from a previous relationship, but the youth didn't live with him. Police said Broderick Turner had been adopted by Thomas Turner's mother.
At the hospital late Monday, relatives held vigil outside the room of the 22-month-old girl. A court will ultimately decide who will get custody of the child, Sheriff's Sgt. Christine Murray said. She said custody may go to the grandparents.
Relatives found it difficult to speak of the family.
"We're just continuing to pray at this moment. There was no warning that this was going to happen," said James Kessee, brother of the slain wife. "Let's just say she was a very loving mother."
The shooting happened just hours after a large family get-together: Relatives said they last saw the family Sunday evening, when they all convened to enjoy a dinner out.
"He was a wonderful person. I don't understand it," said Thomas Turner's sister, Denise Johnson. "It's a shock because we saw him last night. We all went out to dinner. He was in good spirits. He called my mother before she went to work and he sounded fine. And we just got the call this morning, and that was it."