(AP) GRAPEVINE, Texas — Six members of a Texas family apparently opened Christmas presents just before a relative dressed as Santa Claus showed up, opened fire and killed them before killing himself, police said Monday.
Grapevine police spokesman Sgt. Robert Eberling said the shooter showed up in the Santa outfit shortly before gunfire erupted and was a member of the family. The identity of the shooter and the victims will be released after autopsies are conducted Monday, he said.
All of the victims appeared to be related, and Grapevine police said they believe the shooter was among the dead. Investigators were meticulously searching the apartment, along with three vehicles parked outside, and didn’t expect to finish until dawn on Monday.
“It appears they had just celebrated Christmas. They had opened their gifts,” said Sgt. Eberling said, adding that the apartment was decorated for the holiday, including a tree.
The four women and three men, aged 18 to 60, were found dead in an adjoining kitchen and living room area when police arrived midday Sunday, shortly after receiving a 911 call in which no one was on the other line, Eberling said. Two handguns were found near the bodies, he said.
None of the victims has been identified, but Eberling said it appears they all died of gunshot wounds. He said authorities still don’t know what sparked the incident.
Grapevine Police Lt. Todd Dearing said investigators believe that the victims were related, though some were visiting and didn’t live in the apartment. He said police are looking for other relatives to inform of the deaths.
“Seven people in one setting in Grapevine, that’s never happened before. Ever,” Dearing said.
Police and firefighters first rushed to the Lincoln Vineyards complex after receiving the open-ended 911 call at about 11:30 a.m., Eberling said.
“There was an open line. No one was saying anything,” he explained.
So police went into the apartment, located in the middle-class neighborhood of Grapevine, not far from the upscale Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville. The apartment was at the back of the complex, overlooking the athletic fields of Colleyville Heritage High School.
But many of the nearby apartments are vacant, and police said no neighbors reported hearing anything on a quiet Christmas morning when many people were not around.
Jose Fernandez, a 35-year-old heavy equipment mechanic who moved to the complex with his family about six months ago, said he always felt safe in the area, but is now afraid to let his 10-year-old son play freely outside.
“This is really outrageous especially on Christmas,” said Fernandez, who was visiting family for the holiday and returned to find several police cars parked outside his home.
“This has shocked everybody. It has scared everybody. I guess something like this can happen anywhere, but seven people dead. It’s just very scary,” he added.
Eberling agreed the area is fairly quiet, noting this would be the first homicide in Grapevine since 2010.
Christy Posch, a flight attendant who moved to the complex about six months ago so her son could attend the high school, said she lives a few buildings away and did not hear any gunshots.
“It’s all families. That’s why I moved here. No burglaries, no nothing,” Posch said.