WILMINGTON, Calif. -- Awash in debt, behind on his mortgage and recently fired from his job at a hospital, Ervin Lupoe was planning on leaving California.
He'd pulled his kids out of their school, packed his sport utility vehicle with snow chains and winter clothing for him and his family and appeared ready for the trip to his brother-in-law's home in Garden City, Kan.
It's not yet known if he was planning on leaving for good in a bid to flee his mounting money problems or if the trip would have only been temporary.
Whatever his intention, Lupoe never got to Kansas.
Instead, police say, he shot his five children and wife to death before turning the gun on himself.
"Something happened in the last 48 hours that made him snap," said Detective David Cortez, the lead investigator in the case. "(He saw) no other way, no other direction."
Investigators found evidence of spiraling financial woes. Lupoe owed the Internal Revenue Service at least $15,000 and a check he wrote the agency for that amount had just bounced.
He also was at least one month behind on a mortgage for his home in Wilmington, near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Jobs are scarce in the area and the real-estate market is sinking. Lupoe owed about $2,500 and a late fee, Cortez said. He also owed thousands more on a home equity line of credit.
Police found the bodies of Lupoe, his wife and five children Tuesday morning. It appears the family had been killed the evening before and Lupoe shot himself the next day, Cortez said.
Lupoe and his wife Ana had both recently been fired from their jobs at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center West Los Angeles. The two technicians had understated their income on an application for childcare in a bid to get cheaper rates, Cortez said.
On Wednesday , the LAPD identified the children as Brittney, 8; twin girls Jaszmin and Jassely, 5; and twin boys Benjamin and Christian, 2.
The three girls had attended Crescent Heights Elementary School, but the parents took them out of school more than a week ago, according to the principal. Crisis counselors were on hand at the school Wednesday to meet with students or faculty who need help coping with the tragedy.
Photos of the family were posted on the family's Facebook page (see gallery, left).
Details of Suicide Note Revealed
The father faxed a two-page typewritten letter to KABC-TV and the police department's communications division, said LAPD Deputy Chief Kenneth Garner. The Burbank-based television station called police, Garner said.
"Obviously he wanted somebody to find the bodies," Garner said. "In the note, he clearly said he was going to kill himself, his wife and his kids."
KABC reported that Ervin Lupoe claimed in the fax that a medical center administrator rebuffed them when they showed up to work, told them to file a union grievance and said, "You should have blown your brains out."
He wrote that they filed a grievance but nothing was done and two days later they were fired, KABC reported.
"They did nothing to the manager who started such and did not attempt to assist us in the matter, knowing we have no job and five children under 8 years old with no place to go. So here we are," the note said.
At the bottom of the note, he wrote, "Oh lord, my God, is there no hope for a widow's son?"
Read the full note here.
Bodies Discovered in Home
The "grisly scene" was discovered shortly after 8 a.m. in the 1000 block of MacFarland Avenue, Garner said. Wilmington, about 18 miles south of downtown, is a 10-square-mile community adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles.
"Like I said, I've been on the police department for 32 years and I've never seen anything like this, so I doubt if there's too many officers who have ever seen anything like this. So it's horrific. It's a tragedy," Garner said.
Garner said the bodies of the father and three girls were found in an upstairs bedroom at the front of the home. The bodies of the twin boys and wife were found in a back bedroom, Garner said.
"We're trying to get a timeline and understand exactly what was heard and when," Garner said. "When officers entered, they smelled gunshot residue. We're operating off the premise it happened within minutes before officers got here."
Garner said a revolver was found in the home, and the residence had not been ransacked.
All Signs Point to Murder-Suicide
Garner said he was not aware of any 911 calls placed by neighbors. A note was found inside the house, and police were working on the theory that the case was one of murder-suicide, but were following all leads.
"We don't want to have conjecture out there. We want to make sure that we absolutely know what happened and what the timeline is," Garner said. "(Murder-suicide) is the main possibility."
Garner urged people to take advantage of community assistance and hotline numbers if they are going through financial difficulties.
"That would be our hope -- that people would seek that guidance, seek that assistance rather than taking this route, which is not the way to go," Garner said. "It's clearly not the way to go."
"No Words Can Describe This Tragedy"
At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Villaraigosa said, "No words can describe this tragedy."
"There's no way to comprehend this unspeakable act," the mayor said at the crime scene.
Villaraigosa stressed that the city and county both offer services for people who have lost their jobs or are in need of mental health counseling.
"Whatever was the cause of the desperation that triggered this violence, there's help out there," Villaraigosa said. "We want the people of this city to know that there's help out there. ... There's nothing, no option so horrible that can make you do something as horrific as this."
City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents the area, echoed the mayor's comments and encouraged people who are struggling financially to seek help.
"No matter how desperate you are, no matter how frustrated you are, to think that this was the only answer, to take your whole family with you in death, is too much to understand," she said.
Do You Need Help?
Villaraigosa offered up a variety of city and county resources available to people who may be feeling pressure in light of the nation's current economic slump.
"Help is available, resources exist, job centers, foreclosure counselors and mental health professionals are ready to provide whatever services are necessary to get people on their feet and to keep families afloat," Villaraigosa said.
He cited a variety of hotlines and other resources. The city of Los Angeles information line at 311 and the county information line at 211 or 800-339-6993 can also provide specific referrals.
Available resources include:
- Employment, city of Los Angeles WorkSource Centers, (213) 744-7211 or www.lacity.org/wib;
- Department of Mental Health, (800) 854-7771 (available 24 hours, 7 days) or dmh.lacounty.gov/dmh_hotline.asp;
- The Suicide Prevention Center, (877) 727-4747 (available 24 hours, 7 days) or www.suicide.org/hotlines/california-suicide-hotlines.html;
- Foreclosures, ACORN Housing, (213) 748-1345 (also helps evicted tenants), and Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing Services, (213) 381-2862, ext. 112.
Other Recent Mass Slayings in SoCal
This was the third mass slaying of a family in Southern California since fall.
On Dec. 24, Bruce Pardo, 45, dressed up as Santa Claus invaded a Christmas Eve party at his ex-wife's parents' home in suburban Covina, opened fire with a gun and set the house ablaze with racing fuel. Ex-wife Sylvia Pardo and eight relatives were fatally shot or burned. Pardo later killed himself.
In October, a 45-year-old unemployed financial manager despairing over extreme money problems shot and killed his wife, three children, mother-in-law and himself in their home in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley.
Karthik Rajaram wrote in a suicide letter he felt the honorable choice was to kill himself and his family instead of just himself, police said.
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