ELLENVILLE–A male and female were fatally shot in an apartment parking lot Thursday morning, and the gunman, described as an Ellenville village trustee and school employee, then turned the weapon on himself, authorities said.
The gunman was identified at an afternoon press conference as Efrain Lopez, 55, a longtime Village Board member and maintenance employee at the Ellenville school district.
Chief Philip Mattracion labeled the incident a murder-suicide and said it was the culmination of an “ongoing domestic dispute,” which involved Lopez and his estranged girlfriend, Magarita Soto, 55.
The other shooting victim on Thursday was Soto’s companion, Jose Cruz, also 55.
Mattracion said the pair had been dating for just a short time. The victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
The shooting occurred outside the Canal Lock apartments at 110 Center St.
Mattracion said Lopez first killed Cruz after he parked his car at the apartment complex and then shot Soto before taking his own life.
Police found a 30-30 lever-action rifle with a scope at the scene, the chief said. Police are investigating whether Lopez owned the weapon.
The incident broke out at around 10 a.m. when police responded to multiple calls reporting that two people had been shot, Mattracion said.
Early on in the investigation, Ellenville schools were locked down, but the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office sent out a Nixle alert, saying that had been lifted as of 11 a.m.
Schools were locked down out of an “abundance of caution,” Mattracion said, after police heard in the initial stage of the investigation that the gunman was heading toward the school.
The chief said a witness, who was parked across the street and watched the shooting unfold, got scared, ran out of his vehicle and was initially thought to be the gunman.
Mattracion called Lopez a friend and said “there was no indication, no signs that this would ever happen.” He said Lopez did not indicate his intentions with a suicide note.
Mattracion, who suffered a heart attack in recent years, said that Lopez had often checked up on him and shoveled his driveway while he was recovering.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” the chief said. “I sit here tonight, questioning, ‘What did I miss?’ I just talked to him last night at around 5 o’clock. He was laughing. He was jovial. It’s a tragedy on so many different levels.
“I realize this is a violent act and multiple families have been affected it, but nobody actually realizes what goes on in somebody’s house. This takes a lot psychologically to get to this point,” he said.
“There was no indication that he was capable of committing such a violent act. It goes to show you: Don’t rush to judgment. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors or what goes on in somebody’s mind to commit such a tragedy.”