MAYS LANDING, N.J. — Dan Danchak was supposed to meet April Kauffman at his American Legion post in Somers Point on Friday night to smoke a "victory cigar" with her.
Instead, Danchak, a Vietnam veteran who had worked with Kauffman, and her husband, James, a prominent area physician, on veterans' health care issues, was mourning her death.
The 47-year-old Kauffman, a grandmother, local radio personality, and entrepreneur known affectionately by friends as "Air Strike April," was found shot to death in the master bedroom of her Linwood home on Thursday morning. Questions about who did it — and why — loomed nearly as large Friday as the legacy of advocacy and service left by a woman well-known in the region as a staunch activist for veterans' affairs.
"She was a human dynamo … every door opened for her," said Danchak as he recalled how she would take on a cause and see it through to success.
"She was almost magical. She rode a Harley, drove a Corvette. … She was a wealthy woman. She knew the governor, all the generals, all the politicians. She could easily swim in those circles. But April was a very down-to-earth person, and 90 percent of the time she had her focus squarely on helping other people," Danchak said.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), who said he had known Kauffman for years, recalled her tenacity in getting attention for veterans' issues.
"April was an extraordinary person … highly motivated. She wasn't afraid to be aggressive for the causes she believed in. She would almost shame people into getting involved like no one I've ever seen," LoBiondo said Friday. "She had the energy and tenacity of a hundred people."
Earlier this month, Gov. Christie presented Kauffman with the Governor's Award for Outstanding Community Service.
Danchak said he and Kauffman were kindred spirits who had both lived through hardscrabble childhoods, separated from siblings, and faced other difficulties. Kauffmann grew up in nearby Absecon, a far less tony neighborhood than where she had been living.
"She had a lot of gratitude about the life she was living now and she just wanted to give back … just keep giving back to people," Danchak said.
An Atlantic County medical examiner had completed an autopsy by Friday afternoon, but the results were not being released to the public, said county Prosecutor Ted Housel in an afternoon news conference at his office here.
Confirming only that Kauffman had been shot more than once, Housel said the details — precisely how many shots were fired and where on her body Kauffman was hit — were being kept confidential. He said the information would likely not be released "for a while." He confirmed that a number of people — including Kauffman's husband and other family members and friends — had been questioned. An attempt An eto reach James Kauffman was unsuccessful.
April Kauffman owned a hair salon and catering business in Northfield. Her husband, an endocrinologist, operates a practice in nearby Egg Harbor Township. Until three months ago, she hosted a weekly talk show on radio station WOND-AM 1400, focusing on veterans' issues. She most recently cohosted another talk show, the King Arthur Show, once a week on WIBG.
She maintained her interest in veterans affairs, holding an annual Thanksgiving dinner at her home for about 50 recruits from the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May.
She was a key organizer of a successful petition drive to allow some regional veterans to use the facilities at Shore Memorial Hospital instead of being forced to take a two-hour bus ride to the nearest VA hospital, in Wilmington. She also recently helped organize a drive to help homeless Iraq war veteran Kevin Snow and his family find a place to live. She worked almost single-handedly to organize food, clothing, and household items for the family, Danchak said.
Housel said an unidentified "handy-person" who worked for the Kauffmans found the body when he arrived at the house between 11 and 11:30 a.m. Thursday to take care of the couple's parrots. Housel is urging anyone who saw anything suspicious near the home, on Woodstock Drive, in the 12 hours before Kauffman was found, to notify police.
"I don't think the residents of Linwood should be running around panicked," Housel said of the small, quiet, almost crime-free community along the Route 9 corridor between Northfield and Somers Point.
Linwood Police Chief Robert James said authorities were acting appropriately in the case, including a decision not to lock down a nearby high school after police received a call about the homicide.
"If we thought there was a larger problem, we would be taking more steps," James said.
In the meantime, friends and family are still trying to cope with the shock of losing such a dynamic person, said Lee Darby, who said she had been a close friend of Kauffman's for more than 30 years.
"She just had a way about her. … I can't see how anyone would want to hurt her," Darby said.