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Custody battle likely led dad to murder-suicide in Astoria, police say

James Shields, who police say killed his son, his ex- and current wife and himself, had posted on social media that his life was "spiraling out of control," police said.

Police investigate after four people, including a 6-year-old

Police investigate after four people, including a 6-year-old boy, were found dead in an Astoria apartment Monday night. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

An international custody battle over a 6-year-old boy is believed by police to have sparked the murder-suicide that took the lives of four people —including the youngster — late Monday in Astoria, police said.

James Shields, 39, used a Glock handgun to kill his son, James Giacomo Shields, his ex-wife, Linda Olthof, 47, and his current wife before turning the gun on himself, NYPD chief of detectives Dermot Shea told reporters Tuesday.

“What this appears to be is a custody battle essentially,” said Shea, who explained that Shields had been in a legal fight with Olthof. She had been living with the couple’s son in the Netherlands but had returned on July 21 for a visit to New York, he said.

Police did not identify Shields’ current wife because her family had not yet been notified.

Shields apparently had a physical therapy business which he operated, at least as a mail drop, out of his apartment at 23-07 30th Dr. in Astoria, Shea said.

Shea said police found two Glock handguns in the first-floor apartment, as well as seven fully loaded magazines on Shields’ body, amounting to a total of 70 rounds of ammunition.

“What those rounds were meant for may never be known but they were on the scene,” said Shea.

According to Shea, Shields had a permit for possession of the two handguns at his home but did not have a concealed carry permit. The handguns were being traced but there was no indication so far that the guns were illegally purchased, he said.

Shields wrote on a GoFundMe page and other social media postings that his life was “spiraling out of control," Shea said. "He makes reference to financial obligations.”

“Financial and custody seems to be the primary reasons behind this tragic incident,” Shea said.

Shea said that Olthof had visitation agreements with Shields that permitted their child to come to New York for a period of time. This latest visit seems to have been carried out to fulfill the visitation obligations and serve as a vacation, according to Shea. 

According to police, in December 2017 a call was made to police about verbal fighting in Shields' apartment. Police responded and were met by a woman in the apartment who refused to give any names, Shea said.

Monday night’s carnage was first reported by a building caretaker who was able to see into the apartment and called 911, Shea said. Initial reports that Shields was found with a slashed throat were incorrect. He was found with a gunshot wound under his chin, Shea said.

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