Mystery surrounded what police say was the murder-suicide of four members of a Garden City family found this week inside a Baltimore-area hotel room, deaths that have shaken two communities and left them asking why.
The bodies of William Parente, 59, a real estate attorney who was said to be depressed over the death of his mother and having financial problems, his wife Betty, 58, and their children, Stephanie, 19, and Catherine, 11 - were discovered Monday afternoon in their 10th-floor room in a Sheraton hotel in Towson, Md., just outside Baltimore. The family had traveled to the area to visit Stephanie, who was a sophomore at Loyola College in Maryland.
"I still don't know what happened," said Juan Sandoval of Garden City. "My wife knew them. It's terrible."
Baltimore County police said little Tuesday about the manner of their deaths, only that the circumstances were not immediately clear to investigators. More information was expected to be released after the completion of autopsies, which were to begin Tuesday.
"Even (Monday) night we could not say it was a murder-suicide or even a homicide," said Cpl. Michael Hill, a department spokesman. "Overnight they came up with enough evidence to say definitively."
Garden City Village police visited the Parentes' house Monday night, neighbors said.
Hill ruled out stabbing and gunshots as causes of death. He declined to say who was suspected to be the perpetrator, where in the room the bodies were found or whether a suicide note had been found. The Parentes' room was locked from the inside.
William Parente, who was a private estate and tax attorney based in a Lexington Avenue high-rise, graduated from Brooklyn College in 1970. He got his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1973.
A Garden City neighbor said Parente had been depressed since the death of his mother a year ago last week.
Police said hotel staff found the Parentes' bodies Monday afternoon in a 10th-floor room after the family did not check out as expected.
The bodies were taken to the office of the medical examiner in Baltimore for autopsies, police said.
The Parente family had breakfast together Sunday, and some employees at the Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel recall seeing some of the family members later that day, Hill said.
Stephanie Parente was last known to be on campus Sunday morning, when she ate with her roommates in a campus dining hall, according to the Rev. Brian Linnane, the Loyola president.
Her friends began to worry Sunday night when Parente didn't come back to her dorm to study for a chemistry exam Monday, Linnane said.
"The chemistry book was open on the desk, and it was strange," Linnane said. "It raised questions about where she was the night before an exam that was perceived to be important."
The friends tried Parente's cell phone but got no answer, he said. Then they called the hotel, about five miles from campus, and were transferred to the Parente family's room. William Parente answered and said his daughter was staying with the family at the hotel, Linnane said.
The school held a special Mass last night for Stephanie. "I'm still in shock; I still can't even get my head around it," said Collin Wheeler, a sophomore from Manhattan who attended the Mass. "I just feel really hopeless."
Catherine Parente was a sixth-grader at Garden City Middle School, where the school district Tuesday arranged for counselors to be available to speak with grieving students.
Betty Parente was on the board of the Tri Town Auxiliary of United Cerebral Palsy of Nassau, said auxiliary president Lucille Messina, and volunteered with the Girl Scouts and the American Cancer Society.
Photos of the Parente family deaths
Pervaiz Shallwani and staff writers Matthew Chayes, Sophia Chang, Emi Endo and Sumathi Reddy contributed to this story.