2 dead after father shoots family, self in Shaler

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 7:00 a.m.

Jeff Sanders chatted with his neighbor in the backyards of their Shaler homes hours before police said James Edwards opened fire on his family, going “room to room” shooting his wife and son and killing his daughter and himself early Thursday.

“In five hours time, what happened?” Sanders said. “He seemed fine. We talked about the kids.”

Allegheny County Police Lt. Andrew Schurman said less than a week after James Edwards, 52, was suspended from his job as an electrician, he went through the Winterset Drive home, fatally shooting his daughter Laurin, 19, and critically wounding his wife Charlene, 51, and son James J. “Jimmy” Edwards, 21, before killing himself.

His wife, daughter and son were each shot at least two times, police said. Also shot dead was the family dog, a beagle. Authorities did not know whether the suspension was connected with the shooting.

Charlene and Jimmy Edwards are in Allegheny General Hospital in critical condition; police expect them to survive.

“We're in the early stages of the investigation in trying to determine what caused this,” said Schurman. “It looks like the children were in their respective rooms. He went from room to room, for lack of a better term, and shot all the people.”

Detectives looking for a motive found no journals, diaries or other writings leading them to an explanation, Schurman said.

“We might never know exactly why,” he said.

Relatives of the Edwards family could not be reached.

Charlene Edwards managed to call 911 at 3:10 a.m. Jimmy Edwards was playing a video game online with an audio connection at the time of the shooting, Schurman said, and another player who wasn't at the house called 911 after hearing gunshots and screaming through the audio connection.

James Edwards was suspended on Friday from his job as an electrician pending further action from his employer, Schurman said. He worked for the Allegheny County Airport Authority at Pittsburgh International Airport, spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said. She would not comment on the suspension or any other action, saying it was a personnel matter.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the wife and son in their recovery from their injuries,” Airport Authority President Bradley D. Penrod said in a statement.

James Edwards earned $52,674 annually and began his job with the Airport Authority in June 2011, Jenny said. Charlene Edwards is a patient care technician at UPMC Passavant, UPMC spokesman Rick Pietzak said.

Neighbor Joe Pulgini, who described the family as friendly and sociable, said he remembered James Edwards was unemployed three or four years ago.

“At that time, things were in turmoil,” Pulgini said. “But then he found work and seemed to be doing well. You just think, ‘What would cause someone to go to that extreme?' ”

Investigators found two handguns registered to James Edwards in the home.

Shaler police had no reports of domestic problems there, Chief Bryan Kelly said. In January 2012, a neighbor complained to police that James Edwards ran chain saws and log splitters and played loud music all day, Kelly said.

Neighbors said Jimmy and Laurin Edwards were set to return to college for the fall semester.

“Those kids were the most wonderful kids you would ever want,” said Linda Behrhorst, who lives across the street. “Why anyone would hurt them is unbelievable.”

Laurin Edwards, who had celebrated her birthday on Wednesday, was about to begin her second year as a physician assistant sciences student at Saint Francis University. Jimmy Edwards is a pharmacy student at Duquesne University.

Courtney Zajdel was Laurin Edwards' sorority sister in Phi Lambda Psi at Saint Francis.

“Laurin was one of those people that could take any situation you were going through and make you smile,” Zajdel wrote in an email. “She was one of my biggest support systems. She was a beautiful person and now she is a beautiful angel.”

Kailynn Dunkle, 19, of Hershey met Laurin Edwards last year. The two pledged the same sorority and planned to live together this fall.

“I didn't want to believe it,” Dunkle wrote via Facebook. “She knew how to light up a room. There was never a dull moment with her.”

Jimmy Edwards has an apartment ready to move into near Duquesne, but was home this week because his wisdom teeth were removed, neighbors said.

“Words can't accurately express the deep shock and sadness the Duquesne University community feels about this horrific incident. We can't imagine what they are going through,” spokeswoman Bridget Fare wrote in an email.

Sanders said he would go out for dinner and drinks with the couple and was there when Jimmy Edwards shot his first deer.

“They both adored the hell out of both their kids,” Sanders said of the Edwardses. “They'd go out of the way to make sure the kids have everything they need.”

Sanders was getting ready for work at 3 a.m. and heard a dog barking but didn't think anything was amiss until he heard the traffic, saw police and saw Charlene Edwards lying on the back porch.

“You never would've thought this,” Sanders said. “Couples do what couples do. Everybody has their issues but nothing where it would've gotten this severe.”

Margaret Harding and Aaron Aupperlee are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Harding can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com. Aupperlee can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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