NYPD detectives and officers gather at the scene of the murder-suicide in Astoria on Monday night. Photo Credit: Mari Estrella
By JON CRONIN
In a normally quiet part of Astoria, four members of a family, including a child, were shot dead in an apparent murder-suicide that is believed to have been fueled by a custody battle, according to police.
James Shields, 39, a physical therapist who is believed to have been the shooter, was in a tense court battle with his ex-wife, Linda Olthof, 47, who lived in the Netherlands. Shields had created a GoFundMe page with a $30,000 goal to combat his legal fees.
Dermot Shea, the NYPD’s’ chief of detectives, said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that the name of Shields’ current wife—who was killed along with Shields’ 6-year-old son, Giacomo James Shields, and ex-wife—has yet to be released, pending the notification of her family.
Shields is believed to have killed the two women and the child with one of the two Glock pistols that he was permitted to keep in the home. He then killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound underneath his chin.
According to Shea, an individual who acts as a caretaker at the eight-unit apartment building on 30th Drive, discovered the gruesome scene by looking through a backyard door while taking out the garbage and then called 911.
Shea added that there is still an active search warrant at the site involving a vehicle.
Shields was discovered with two Glock firearms on his body and an additional seven magazines fully loaded. Shea called that evidence “an interesting wrinkle,” and added that “we may never know” the purpose of the fully loaded magazines.
Shea said that police believe the motive for the murders to be Shields’ finances and custody battle.
Olthof had arrived in the United States with her son, of whom she had custody, 10 days prior to the shooting with a friend, Shea said. The friend had alerted Olthof’s sister in the Netherlands when Olthof could not be reached by phone. The sister then checked the internet and discovered reports of the murders. Olthof’s family flew to the United States on Tuesday.
Shea said that as police interviewed other occupants of the building and neighboring homes, they learned that “not many people knew them well.”
On Tuesday morning, James Shields Sr., spoke with members of the press on the outside stoop of his son’s first floor apartment. He called his son “a good man, a good boy.”
The grandfather, who noted that he does not live nearby, said he believed that Shields had custody of the boy and that his mother was taking their child back to the Netherlands.
The elder Shields said his grandson was “a beautiful boy” and “very friendly.”
Asked about his son’s custody battle with his ex-wife, Shields said that, “He didn’t talk to me much, he kept everything a secret.”
He then abruptly told the press, “I don’t want to talk no more.”
In April, Shields started a GoFundMe account to ask for help with legal fees for the custody battle. No donations were given. He wrote on the account’s page that his ex-wife is an artist and went back to the Netherlands when she was pregnant with their child. He wrote, “Due to my ex’s extreme jealousy and bitterness, she is dragging me through court case after court case to be spiteful.” He added that she was able to do so because her legal fees were paid by the Dutch government.
Shields pleaded on the site, “The financial stress of this is destroying my current marriage and life….How do I choose between financially ruining my current relationship vs. giving up the battle for my son? I had the perfect life a few years ago, but it has spiraled out of control and I desperately need any help you can provide.”
Tony Baken, who has lived in the apartment above Shields for the past eight years, said that he did not hear an argument or gunshots on the night of the murders.
“Of course, I’m shocked,” Baken said noting that the neighborhood was typically quiet.
“He was not himself all the time,” he said of Shields, adding that his neighbor had a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” quality.
Other neighbors said that Shields often had parties with loud music that went into the early morning hours, even on weekdays.
Another neighbor, who referred to himself as “Billy C.” and lives two doors down from Shields’ apartment, said that he heard an argument for approximately five minutes that night, but couldn’t place its location. He did not hear gunshots and suspected that the argument involved a neighbor who revs his motorcycle late at night.
Condy Eckerle, who lives a few blocks away from the scene, said that she frequently walks the area. She said that she had seen Shields and his son before, and stopped to tell Shields that she thought the boy was cute. She added that she had never seen him behave angrily.