All Nine Fresno Victims Died by Gunfire

New York Times/March 15, 2004
By Carolyn Marshall

Fresno, Calif. -- The nine victims in this city's worst mass murder all appear to have been shot to death, the police said on Monday. They said investigators were trying to determine whether the suspected killer, believed to be the father of all the victims, was helped by someone else.

The bodies were found on Friday when the police responded to a child-custody call at a house. After a standoff with the suspect, Marcus D. Wesson, 57, they took him into custody. Mr. Wesson's arraignment on nine counts of murder has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Three of the victims were 1 year old, and four others were younger than 9. The other two victims were a 17-year-old girl and a 24-year-old woman, the police said. Two of the toddlers may be the result of incestuous relations between Mr. Wesson and his older daughters, the authorities said.

Autopsies on seven of the victims indicate that they suffered gunshot wounds, while injuries on the last two bodies still under examination exhibited injuries similar to gunshot wounds, the authorities said.

The Fresno County coroner's office said one of the victims might have been somehow involved in the shootings. Chief Jerry Dyer of the Fresno Police Department declined to comment about a second killer but said it was "something we are keeping an open mind to."

Chief Dyer said more search warrants had been issued for another Fresno address.

Chief Dyer and officials at the Fresno County Department of Child and Family Services also said that the authorities never received complaints about the Wesson family that would have raised concern. "I don't know that anything could have been done to prevent this," he said.

The police investigation and interviews with residents provide a portrait of Mr. Wesson as an intelligent but extremely controlling and private unemployed man who may have been supported by the women who gave birth to his children.

Serafino Wesson, 19, the youngest living son of Mr. Wesson, spoke lovingly of his father and the brothers and sisters he last saw alive on Friday morning, before he left the house for the day.

The son, upset as he recovered personal items at the home on Saturday, described his father as a good parent who kept his family close and home-schooled his children because he distrusted the public education system.

"It was a nice way to grow up," he said about having many siblings. "And I can't name another 19-year-old who has no record and obeys his parents."

He confirmed earlier reports that he and his brothers attended martial arts classes. "My father thought it would help us learn to defend ourselves and deal with people," he said.

Neighbors described the father, a former Vietnam War medic, as withdrawn and private. Some members of the family were rarely seen outside during the day and seemed active only at night, typically after 10 p.m. Just how reclusive the family was could be seen in discussions with nearby residents.

"I never even knew there were kids living there," said one neighbor, Patrick Collazo, 44. "I'd never seen them. That's why the murder of kids came as such a shock."

Several neighbors commented on "strange odors" that emanated from the backyard almost every night. The Wesson family seemed to have nightly barbecues.

"At least twice a week when they were barbecuing there would be an odor," said Barbara Alec, 61, who lives next door to the Wesson house. "It would kill you to smell it. It would gag me. Whatever he was cooking, it was not food. If it was food, they must have used strange spices."

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