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Surviving family in shock after Stone killings

Next week, Nicole Stone's family was to gather in Lansdale for an annual Christmas Eve feast of peeled shrimp and clam linguine.

Nicole Stone
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Next week, Nicole Stone's family was to gather in Lansdale for an annual Christmas Eve feast of peeled shrimp and clam linguine.

Seated around the table would have been four generations - Stone, her two young daughters, her mother, grandmother, and sister.

Now only the little girls are alive. Over a few hours Monday, Stone's ex-husband, Bradley W. Stone, killed the rest.

"It's unbelievable," Nicole Stone's aunt Connie McGaughey said Tuesday. "It's a nightmare."

But it's not that some kind of trouble was unexpected.

Though Bradley Stone's full motives remain unclear, his victims shared more than a familial bond. All appeared to be on one side of a nasty and protracted custody battle between Nicole and Bradley Stone, one that worsened when he learned his ex-wife had recently sought treatment for drug abuse.

The custody dispute was a constant topic of conversation, McGaughey said. The family worried for Nicole and her daughters.

As recently as Saturday, McGaughey said, her sister Joanne T. Gilbert had called her to talk about the dispute. And McGaughey said she knew her sister and mother talked often with Nicole about it.

"They were always communicating to make sure she was OK and to make sure her children were OK," McGaughey said Tuesday from her Wilkes-Barre home.

Gilbert, 57, was one of six people authorities say Bradley Stone killed Monday morning, before later taking his own life in woods near his home in Pennsburg. Besides his ex-wife, the others were Nicole Stone's grandmother Patricia Hill, 75; her sister, Patricia Flick of Souderton; and Flick's husband, Aaron, and 14-year-old daughter, Nina.

Despite her family and personal troubles, Nicole Stone had held steady jobs at Montgomery Mall. She loved singing and dancing to 1980s music, and was always upbeat while working at the Gertrude Hawk chocolate store, manager Lannette Wismer said.

"She was just a ray of sunshine," Wismer said.

Her coworkers loved her so much that they pitched in to surprise her with Christmas presents for her daughters last year, after she mentioned she could not afford any, Wismer said.

"I knew that there were issues," she said, "but she did everything for the girls."

In recent months, Nicole Stone had sought treatment for drug abuse, friends and family members said.

When her ex-husband learned of that, he redoubled his efforts to win custody of their daughters, 5-year-old Kayla and 8-year-old Shannon, who spent much of their time living with their mother at her apartment in Harleysville, Lower Salford.

Earlier this month, Bradley Stone filed an emergency motion in Montgomery County Court seeking custody of the children, records show.

A judge had not yet issued a final ruling on the request.

Evan Weron, a Harleysville resident who got to know Nicole Stone because their children played outside together, said she had complained in recent months about the custody battle and said she feared for her safety.

"It got to be so much towards the end," Weron said.

Weron said he had been there in the past when Bradley Stone came to pick up or drop off his daughters. At first, the ex-Marine had been friendly, but more recently he would simply storm out of the house, Weron said.

Bradley Stone was usually accompanied by his new wife, Jennifer Ovdiyenko, a 37-year-old artist he married last year. The couple have a baby, officials said.

Nicole Stone was also engaged to be married, according to her aunt.

But while Nicole sorted out her issues with drug addiction, her mother had hoped that she could take custody of her two young girls, McGaughey said.

Joanne Gilbert recently overcame breast cancer, according to her sister, and had purchased Christmas gifts for her grandchildren. She also had them over to decorate a tree in her Lansdale home, the one where police found her and her mother Monday morning.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman on Tuesday said Bradley Stone had dropped off his girls at a neighbor's home after shooting their mother. Both are in protective custody, Ferman said.

Across the area, people were taking steps Tuesday to remember the victims.

At Souderton Area High School, students drew Batman symbols on their arms in memory of Nina Flick, who loved Batman.

Flick, a freshman at the high school, was a carefree teen who "didn't really care what people thought about her," said David Kautter, a friend of her brother's.

Students also organized fund-raising efforts to help Flick's 17-year-old brother, Anthony, the only victim to survive the attack by Bradley Stone. He was hospitalized Tuesday in serious but stable condition.

The high school junior worked at the Souderton Mennonite Homes, cleaning and serving meals to the residents, Kautter said. He described his friend as a music fan with a good sense of humor.

"He literally went through hell," Kautter said of the attack.

Friends are collecting money for Flick at to cover his medical bills and support himself after the loss of his family.

The Souderton Telford Rotary will also create a fund for the surviving children, Ferman said.

Funeral arrangements for the victims were not available Tuesday. But mourners had planned to gather at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Souderton on Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil.