Antioch man killed family, self, cops say — (The San Francisco Chronicle)

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The San Francisco Chronicle

January 24, 2004

Author: Erin Hallissy, Chronicle Staff Writer

Note: Family members have confirmed to SSRI Stories that this man was taking Zoloft and other psychiatric medications at the time of the murder-suicide.

A 48-year-old Antioch man who was on disability killed his wife and grown son in the family’s house before he shot himself to death in the head with his 9mm pistol, police said Thursday.

Some neighbors said Gary Armstrong, who kept a gun collection that included both historic and new models, had expressed frustration with his 24- year-old unemployed son — who recently had moved back home — in the weeks before the shootings Thursday.

But no one who lived near the family said they had seen the violence coming, and police said they had yet to determine a motive for the killings.

Armstrong’s body was found in the living room of his home on Pear Street, police said. His wife, Mary Helen Armstrong, 49, also was found dead in the living room, and their 24-year-old son, Christopher, was found shot in his bedroom.

The bodies were discovered Thursday by the Armstrongs’ 28-year-old daughter, whose name was not released. The woman had gone to check on the family after her mother did not show up that morning at the Brentwood preschool where she was a teacher.

The shooting devastated relatives and neighbors, who said they had no idea there were problems in the Armstrong family.

Mark Silva, 19, was the Armstrongs’ nephew and said he was especially close to Mary Armstrong, who also was his godmother. He called her a “very sweet person” who never complained about anything.

“She is the nicest, most caring person you’d want to meet,” Silva said as he stood outside the family’s house with a friend, Katherine Soppet. “She loved going to work every day. She loved the kids.”

Soppet cried as she saw a blue rosary hanging on the Armstrongs’ front door. She said Mary Armstrong, a Catholic, would urge her to pray and was always upbeat.

“If you give Helen lemons, she will make lemonade,” Soppet said.

Silva said his uncle kept both a gun and a knife collection that he prized and liked to show off.

“He’d say, ‘Look at this, it’s from World War II,’ ” Silva said.

Silva said his uncle had been on disability for a lengthy period after being laid off from a factory in eastern Contra Costa Counnty.”The father was sickly, he was frail,” Silva said. “I don’t know why he’d turn out to be a monster.”

The father may have been having problems with his son, who was unemployed and had moved back home recently, said Rosalinda Diaz, a neighbor of the Armstrongs.

Diaz said Gary Armstrong told her once that he was unhappy that his son “wasn’t doing anything all day.”

“He looked sad about that,” Diaz said. “He told me, ‘I was happy before, but when he came back , I was miserable.’ ”

But Diaz said she had no idea that violence was brewing in the household. Gary Armstrong , she said, was “a very nice perrson.”

Christine Loomis, another neighbor, said she had never seen or heard anything unusual at the Armstrong house.

“There were never any fights over there,” Loomis said.

Police detectives remove evidence from the scene of what they are calling a double murder-suicide on Pear Street in Antioch . Lance Iversen The Chronicle

Record Number: 3331613