HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. - A 44-year-old Mays Landing resident, her brother and her teenaged son were shot to death in the woman's condominium Sunday night, less than an hour after she filed a police complaint against the father of her three-year-old child.
By sun up Monday, it was apparent to authorities that the man neighbors saw run from the scene had committed suicide by hanging himself from an electrical tower some 30 miles away.
The rampage apparently began after Tracy Coleman, of the Woodlands condominium complex, filed a domestic violence complaint against her live-in boyfriend, Sharif Whitlock, 36, with Hamilton Township police around 6:50 p.m. It is unclear whether officials came to the residence or if Coleman signed the complaint at the police station.
The contents of the complaint were not available on Monday. All documents pertaining the case have been seized by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, which is investigating the shootings.
Neighbors called 911 around 7:30 p.m. Sunday and reported the sound of gunfire, according to authorities. Just before shots rang out, residents said, a loud argument was heard coming from Coleman's unit. They saw Whitlock run from the condo and roar away in his late-model Dodge Charger.
"It was a shock to hear those gunshots and then to see him run like that," said neighbor Stacey Jones. "Scary, real scary."
Police entered the unit through an unlocked patio entrance and found the bullet-ridden body of Coleman's brother, Ronald, 39, of Vineland, blocking the condo's front door.
Tracy Coleman was in the master bedroom, also dead from apparent gunshot wounds. Lying nearby, physically unharmed, was her three-year-old son.
In a second bedroom, investigators say they discovered Coleman's elder son, Reginald Coleman-Butler, 15, on the floor in the fetal position. He had been shot in the head.
More than a dozen spent shell casings littered the scene, according to Atlantic County First Assistant Prosecutor Murray Talasnik.
Talasnik said investigators immediately began to search for Whitlock and located his car around 3:15 a.m. in a wooded area along Cedar Brook Road in Winslow Township. It wasn't until around 5:30 a.m. that they noticed Whitlock's body hanging from a nearby metal tower that supports high-voltage electrical lines, investigators said.
Identification found on his body, as well as neighbors' description of the clothing he was wearing, indicated to investigators that it was Whitlock, Talasnik said in a statement.
An autopsy later in the day confirmed that Whitlock had hanged himself. Autopsies are being performed on the three shooting victims.
At Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing, where Reggie Coleman was 10 days from completing his freshman year, students and faculty were shocked that the bright, popular student who loved to dance and dreamed of a career in business had met with such a horrific end.
"I'm just . . . I can't even talk about it," said Latan Jones, 16, a classmate. "It makes me sick every time I try to imagine what happened."
Students were provided grief counseling throughout the day, according to Steven Ciccariello, interim superintendent of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, which oversees the operation of Oakcrest.
"It was a rough day today here, it really was," Ciccariello said. "I've been doing this 30 years, with this District 18, and over the years we've occasionally had to deal with the loss of students to illnesses, automobile accidents. But not this. . . . This is just so hard for everyone to deal with," he said.
"You've got a popular young man with a great sense of humor that had his whole life ahead of him. To see this happen, it's so very tragic."
Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.