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2 dead in New Kensington shooting; woman says male victim her ex-husband

- John Russ of New Kensington, shot to death in front of his home on Aug. 20, 2014
John Russ of New Kensington, shot to death in front of his home on Aug. 20, 2014
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media - New Kensington Police investigate a Hyundai Sonata containing the body of one victim of a double homicide in the 400 block of Fourth Avenue in New Kensington on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Eric Felack  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>New Kensington Police investigate a Hyundai Sonata containing the body of one victim of a double homicide in the 400 block of Fourth Avenue in New Kensington on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.
- New Kensington murder victim John Russ, gunned down on Aug. 20, 2014. Source: Facebook
New Kensington murder victim John Russ, gunned down on Aug. 20, 2014. Source: Facebook
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media - A sheet covers the windshield of a Hyundai containing the body of a shooting victim, as police secure the scene of a double homicide on Fourth Avenue in New Kensington on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Eric Felack  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>A sheet covers the windshield of a Hyundai containing the body of a shooting victim, as police secure the scene of a double homicide on Fourth Avenue in New Kensington on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media - Lower Burrell Police canine officer Steve Cernava and his dog 'Dax' seek the scent of a male suspect seen running from the scene of a double homicide in the 400 block of Fourth Avenue in New Kensington on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Eric Felack  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Lower Burrell Police canine officer Steve Cernava and his dog 'Dax' seek the scent of a male suspect seen running from the scene of a double homicide in the 400 block of Fourth Avenue in New Kensington on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.

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Tips sought

New Kensington police are asking for tips about a double homicide on Wednesday in the Parnassus section. Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 724-339-7534, 911 or on the police department's Facebook page. Westmoreland County detectives can be reached at 724-830-3949.

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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 9:18 a.m.
 

A New Kensington man and an unidentified woman were found shot in the street within 20 feet of each other on Wednesday morning along Fourth Avenue in New Kensington.

Although officials wouldn't identify the dead man, Heather Cline of Plum said the victim was her ex-husband, John Russ, 43. Cline said she divorced Russ because he had a drug addiction.

Cline was inside the residence that Russ shared with some family members. She said she had two children with Russ.

Russ was found slumped at the wheel of a white Hyundai Sonata parked in front of 464 Fourth Ave., about four houses up from the intersection with Fifth Street in Parnassus.

The dead woman, whom police didn't identify, was lying in the street between two parked cars across the street from the Hyundai.

Both were shot just before 8:30 a.m. during a driving rainstorm.

One man working at a nearby business said he heard about six gunshots. At least nine police evidence markers dotted the ground next to the car, and at least three were placed where the woman died.

New Kensington police declined to identify either victim “pending notification of next of kin,” Chief Thomas Klawinski said.

The Westmoreland County Coroner's Office said it would not release their names for the same reason until early Thursday.

Klawinski couldn't say whether anything was taken from the victims or suggest a motive.

Cline told WPXI-TV that she left Russ because of drug usage but she still loved him.

She said her children were angry about the killing, “but they knew he didn't have a good lifestyle.” She said she tried to get him away from drugs but was unsuccessful.

Police said they had a very sketchy description of the shooter. He may be a man last seen running down Fourth Avenue.

Some witnesses say the shooter and an accomplice parked in an alley behind 463 Fourth Ave., four houses from Fifth Avenue.

Police declined to comment about whether a car was seen in the alley at the time of the shooting or whether any evidence was found there.

Fourth Avenue was closed to traffic from just before 9 a.m. to just after 1 p.m., when police tape was taken down and the car was hauled away.

Raette Rosenberger, who lives in the 300 block of Fifth Avenue, told the Valley News Dispatch she heard at least three gunshots, which she at first thought to be the sound of work being done at a nearby auto body shop.

“I'm told the doctors used to live along this block,” Rosenberger said, who said it had been a quiet neighborhood until a series of incidents this month. “Now it's really scary. If I had come back a half-hour earlier, I might have seen something and who knows?

“This town is going to hell.”

Lee Smith of New Kensington was working at the nearby garage.

“I heard, like, six gunshots,” Smith said.

New Kensington police worked with about six Westmoreland County detectives and two Lower Burrell detectives to interview witnesses. County detectives took photos and collected forensic evidence.

The coroner's office said autopsies were scheduled for Wednesday, with results expected on Thursday.

Victim had lengthy record

According to court records, Russ was frequently accused of crimes in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, but by the time the cases went to court, most charges had been withdrawn. He frequently received probation for anywhere from one to five years.

The cases stem from arrests in 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

In 2006, he was found guilty of burglary and related charges in Allegheny County and was sentenced to serve a minimum of just less than a year in the county jail. He spent five months in the Westmoreland County jail in 2010 for minor drug charges.

He received probation numerous times — as much as five years for one case — for several cases in Plum and Churchill involving drugs, simple assault, terroristic threats, receiving stolen property and fleeing police.

Russ was pulled over in Monroeville in April for driving while his license was suspended. That was reversed on appeal in July.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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