Jersey Shore family massacre: ‘Good’ people, private struggles, inexplicable end
LONG BRANCH — Residents of this Monmouth County city woke up on New Year's Day to news that four members of a family had been shot dead in their home.
The accused gunman: The victims' 16-year-old son and brother.
Neighbors and friends who knew the Kologi family were shocked by the details.
Although public records, social media posts and interviews with those who knew the victims and the teen — who could face trial as an adult on four counts of first-degree murder — provided some details about the family, it did nothing to shed light on what motivated the slaying.
Here's what we know so far.
The teen opened fire inside a home at 635 Wall Street around 11:45 p.m. Sunday night, killing his father, Steven Kologi, 44, his mother, Linda Kologi, 43, an 18-year-old sister, Brittany, and 70-year-old family friend Mary Schulz, Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said.
A brother and grandfather were also at the home but escaped unharmed.
Police were alerted to the shooting by a 911 call from within the home.
Brittany was a student at Stockton University and was home for the holidays.
“We are shocked and saddened by the reports of the death of freshman Brittany Kologi under such tragic circumstances," a university spokeswoman said Monday. "Brittany was a health sciences student and lived on campus. While students are currently on winter break, the housing and counseling staff will be available to provide services to her friends and classmates here at Stockton.”
"Everybody's devastated," said Jasmine Rodriguez, who dated Steven Kologi when both attended Long Branch High School in the early 1990s. "People are posting pictures on Facebook of them together. It's heartbreaking because he was a good dude. The outpour of upset and just shock over Facebook is overwhelming right now."
A GoFundMe page was created by Brian Yunker, who described himself as a close friend of the family.
"Linda, Steven, and Brittany were all beautiful people with the kindest hearts you could imagine," Yunker wrote. "As a close friend of the Kologi family I am reaching out for help for the funeral expenses."
Another family friend recalled seeing Steven Kologi recently.
"I could never have believed this could have happened. They were all good people," Carmen Gaudious told the Asbury Park Press. "I just spoke to Steve three days ago. He looked good. It was cold so we didn't say much. He wished me happy holidays."
The accused gunman
Prosecutors say the couple's 16-year-old son shot his family. Authorities have not released his name because he is a minor and has not been charged as an adult in Superior Court. New Jersey 101.5 also does not normally identify juvenile suspects unless that have been charged as adults.
“The Kologis were very caring, loving people and always looking to do fun things with their kids,” a man who CBS New York identified as Linda's cousin told a reporter. “He was a good kid. He was, a little you know, slow with learning disabilities but he knows right from wrong.”
“This is not something I ever thought this young boy would do. I don’t know what happened. He was not a violent kid. He was always smiling,” a friend of the father told the New York Post.
Jalen Walls, 18, a neighbor who went to school with Brittany Kologi, told NJ.com that he frequently went to the Kologis' house. He said the 16-year-old required special assistance and was cared for by his mother. The teen did not attend the same public schools as his siblings, he said.
"But he was fully functional and comprehended what we were saying," Walls said.
According to federal court filings, the family struggled with finances.
In 2009, the couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, declaring nearly half a million dollars in car payments, credit card bills and real estate debt.
The bankruptcy petition said Steven Kologi worked as a mailman while Linda was collecting unemployment insurance.
The filing said they had a daughter and three sons.
Property records show that the couple took ownership of their two-family home in 2002 from Steven's mother.
Thoughts of suicide
A Twitter account using Linda Kologi's name and picture repeatedly posted messages about suicidal thoughts during two years before cops say she was killed by her own son.
Many of the Twitter messages were directed at the Foo Fighters' band account on the social media platform. In some messages, she discussed taking her life so that her family could benefit from her life insurance policy.
New Jersey 101.5 was unable to confirm that the messages were in fact posted by her.
Prosecutors described the gun as a Century Arms semi-automatic rifle.
During a news conference Monday morning, the prosecutor also described it as an "assault" rifle. A later statement by the office did not use that description.
The prosecutor said the gun was legally registered to a member of the family, but did not say who.
The teenager also is facing a second-degree charge of possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose.
The accused teen, who remains in custody, is expected to appear before a Superior Court judge Tuesday morning. The proceedings are expected to remain behind closed doors because the defendant is underage. The prosecutor may request that he be tried as an adult.
The news conference
The Associated Press and New Jersey 101.5 reporter Dan Alexander contributed to this report.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.