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Cops: Gunman who killed 6 relatives wore Santa outfit

The man believed to have killed six relatives and then himself on Christmas Day was dressed as Santa Claus, police said Monday.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

The man believed to have killed six relatives and then himself on Christmas Day was dressed as Santa Claus, police said Monday.

The shooter "showed up shortly before the incident took place" in the Santa outfit and was a member of the family opening gifts in the apartment in this Dallas suburb, said Grapevine police spokesman Sgt. Robert Eberling.

Late Sunday evening, police intently searched a sport utility vehicle parked outside the apartment. The vehicle is registered to a man who listed his residence as a home two miles away in the neighboring suburb of Colleyville.

Thomas Ehrlich, who lives near the home in Colleyville, told the AP he heard from neighbors that police went to the house Sunday. He said it was his understanding that the man and women who once lived there were estranged.

Records show the couple had financial problems and that their home, most recently valued on the county tax rolls at $336,200, had been sold in 2010 at a foreclosure auction.

Eberling said the identity of the man and the victims would be released after autopsies are conducted and relatives were notified.

The dead — four women and three men — were found late Sunday morning in an apartment living room in Grapevine by police answering a voiceless 911 call.

Two pistols were recovered from the home, said Eberling, who called it a "gruesome crime scene" and the worst outburst of gun violence in the town's history.

No one was found alive by police arriving at the home, he said.

A community of about 46,000 people some 20 miles northwest of downtown Dallas, Grapevine is known for its wine-tasting salons and was recently proclaimed by the state Senate as the "Christmas Capital of Texas" for its abundance of annual holiday-season events.

"This is obviously a terrible tragedy," said Mayor William Tate. "The fact that it happened on Christmas makes it even more tragic."

The victims' ages were 15, 19, 22, 55, 56, 58 and 59, said Grapevine police Lt. Todd Dearing. The victims in their 50s were two couples.

Voiceless 911 call
Police dispatched at about 11:30 a.m. local time on Sunday found the bodies in the first-floor living room of a two-story unit in the Lincoln Vineyards apartments.

The 911 caller never spoke to police, and officers did not see the telephone when they arrived, officials said. Eberling said he believed police had to kick in the door to enter.

Many of the nearby apartments are vacant, and police said no neighbors reported hearing anything on a quiet Christmas morning when many people were not around.

Eberling said the victims appeared to have just opened Christmas presents when the shooting started, and there was no visible sign of forced entry or a struggle.

"By all appearances, they're all part of the same family," Eberling said. "It's a gruesome crime scene to say the least, with that many victims in that (small an) area suffering gunshot wounds."

The bodies remained in the apartment well past dark as investigators worked into the early hours of Monday morning processing the crime scene, police said.

Lincoln Vineyards is a middle-income complex near Colleyville Heritage High School, one of the area's most highly regarded schools.

Several neighbors said children frequently played in front of the apartment, and they regularly saw young adults leaving for work.

Vanessa Barerra said the killings were especially disturbing in light of Grapevine's reputation as a safe place to live.

"I did research and chose to live here because of the safety and the school district," she said. "I'm glad my kids weren't here. They're with their dad."