A 29-year-old man was charged Thursday with murder in the shooting deaths of his mother, stepfather and two brothers in the family’s West Philadelphia home.
Acting Police Commissioner Christine M. Coulter said Maurice Louis confessed to the killings to officers who went to the house on the 5000 block of Walton Avenue for a wellness check Wednesday afternoon and found the suspect sitting naked in a chair, drinking vodka with a rifle case at his feet when they entered through a second floor window.
Louis was charged with four counts of murder and related offenses, police said.
Police said they did not know what triggered the attack, but relatives said Louis had been struggling with mental issues recently.
The victims were identified as Louis’ mother, Janet Woodson, 51; her husband, Leslie Holmes, 56; and sons Sy-eed Woodson, 18; and Leslie Woodson, 7. They were all killed by gunshot wounds to the head.
A shotgun believed to have been used in the shooting was recovered at the home, police said. During conversations with police, Louis said he had purchased the gun on Tuesday, according to a law enforcement source.
Officers were drawn to the house Wednesday after coworkers of the couple became “suspicious immediately” when they didn’t show up for their morning shifts, Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Sullivan said.
The couple worked at the Philadelphia Protestant Home, a seniors residence in Lawndale, friends said. The pair were “known to have trouble with a mentally unstable son,” police said in a news release.
But Coulter said Thursday morning investigators had not yet found medical records or other evidence that would indicate Louis was mentally ill.
Police and firefighters were unable to enter the house through the front door and had to use a ladder to go in through a second-floor window, police said. Inside, they found Louis, who told them there were “bodies” in the house, the source said.
They found Woodson’s body near the front door, Holmes’ on the first floor near a basement door. Leslie’s body was found in the kitchen, and his 18-year-old brother’s body was in a second-floor bedroom, both with gunshot wounds, police said.
“It’s never easy to go into a crime scene, and it’s just that much harder when there’s a child involved,” Sullivan said.
An uncle of Woodson’s, Gregory Ferguson, was overcome with grief Wednesday. They were so close that he considered her more like a daughter, he said.
“I’m destroyed, distraught,” Ferguson said from his Virginia home. “I’m not angry at Maurice. I’m just saddened by what he’s going through. Obviously there are some issues he was dealing with.”
Ferguson said Woodson was a churchgoing woman and a devoted mother. She had an entrepreneurial flair and worked for many years as a cosmetologist, he said.
“She was an all-around wonderful person,” Ferguson said. “She had a very predominant presence when she was around people, just a fun person.”
When the two last spoke, he said, Woodson was telling him about Sy-eed’s academic accomplishments, including being named to the honor roll at Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia High School. He was applying to colleges and had hopes of studying optometry, Ferguson said.
In a statement Thursday, officials at the high school said Woodson “was a pleasure to teach and was adored by his peers.” The 18-year-old was also a member of the school’s bowling club, and showed a keen interest in classic literature.
Louis, Ferguson said, had recently relocated to West Philadelphia after living for years in Maryland. He had attended Towson University, but was drawn home by his mother, who was concerned about his mental health, according to Sharla Thomas, one of Woodson’s childhood friends.
The news hit Thomas hard: Even though she had moved away from the block on Walton Avenue where she and Woodson were raised, she made regular trips home from Washington. She last spoke to Woodson in September, during a festival in the neighborhood, she said.
“I just was in shock, I just couldn’t believe it,” Thomas said from Washington. “It’s just hard to believe that something from Dateline is happening in your life. It’s just sad, because she was just a sweet person, a good person.”
Wednesday’s shootings marked the third time children have been shot in Philadelphia in two weeks, after the wounding of an 11-month-old boy on Oct. 19 and the killing of Nikolette Rivera, 2, the following afternoon.
Neighbors mingled near the rain-soaked crime scene Wednesday. They said Woodson was a frequent, welcome presence on the block.
“I can’t imagine not seeing her walking up and down the block with her baby,” said Garland Thomas, 80. “This was the best block for families. All of the children grew up together here.”
The killings took place in a normally quiet section of West Philadelphia, not far from Baltimore Avenue with its shops and restaurants.
But last year, a similar scene was discovered by police two blocks away: Tiyaniah Hopkins, 20; her sister Yaleah Hall, 17; William Maurice Taylor, 31; and Akeen Mattox, 28, were found fatally shot in the basement of Taylor’s home on the 5100 block of Malcolm Street.
Investigators have said that quadruple execution-style murder had been prompted by a feud between Taylor and two drug dealers who had stashed heroin inside the walls of the home Taylor had recently purchased.