Man battled depression before shooting sibling, self

Deaths of inseparable brothers stun family in Pohatcong Township

Allentown Morning Call/September 8, 2002
By Matt Assad and Gregory Karp

After months of struggling, 23-year-old Andrew Parker had a new apartment, a new career path and new encouragement that he was winning his battle against depression.

That's why it's so difficult for his family to understand what drove him to use an AK-47 to kill his 22-year-old brother, Daniel, before turning the assault rifle on himself last week in their Bethlehem Township apartment.

Their bodies were found in separate bedrooms Friday in an apartment at Santee Manor Apartments. It was ruled a murder-suicide.

Autopsies are scheduled for today on the brothers, but that won't bring devastated family members the answers they're looking for.

''He was so excited about going to Lehigh . We were all encouraged. We thought he was coming out of ,'' the brothers' uncle, Mark Magyar, said Saturday by phone from his home in Millington, N.J. ''But now, there's just shock.''

The sons of Cortlandt Parker Jr., a newspaper editor whose prominent family publishes 17 weekly newspapers in northern New Jersey and operates a vineyard from the family farm in Portsmouth, R.I., were inseparable, according to Magyar. Magyar's wife, Elizabeth, co-publishes the papers with her brother Stephen Parker.

They were a tightly knit family that played sports together and took annual family trips to places such as Alaska, Greece and Colombia. They were also devout Christians with ties to a controversial international religious sect called the Family, or Children of God.

On a different day, Cortlandt Parker, 18, might have been enjoying the sunny afternoon in front of his house with his buddies. But on Saturday, he just sat expressionless on a lawn chair in the unkempt front yard of his family's small home on Center Street in Pohatcong Township, near Phillipsburg. His parents were not home.

The teenager spoke slowly in a hushed tone.

''I was there days before it happened and everything seemed fine,'' Parker said. Parker stayed with his brothers in their new apartment in Bethlehem Township for three days before Labor Day, Aug. 26-28. Neither brother had a girlfriend, he said.

''It was just normal. We were hanging out, watching movies and playing video games,'' he said.

He said he didn't notice any unusual tension between his brothers. ''Those guys always got along.''

Parker said he knew Andrew had a gun but didn't know much about it.

''I heard something about it,'' he said. ''Dan told me. I never saw it.''

Best friends

Family members described Andrew and Daniel Parker as best friends who, with their brother Cortlandt, did everything together, from football to karate.

That's why it surprised no one when in June, Andrew and Daniel moved into Santee Manor Apartments on Johnston Drive near Freedom High School. Both graduates of Phillipsburg High School, Andrew was the intellectual one who could talk politics and international policies for hours. Daniel exuded the kind of quiet calm and discipline that helped him become a standout wrestler.

Daniel was enrolled to begin electronics class at Lincoln Technical Institute in South Whitehall Township on Tuesday, and Andrew was enrolled to attend classes at Lehigh University. After two years at George Washington University, Andrew had taken a few classes at Lehigh last semester and had enrolled full-time this semester, hoping to pursue a career in international business, Magyar said.

All of that hope was lost last week when Andrew shot his brother and turned the gun on himself. The shots from Apartment 12 apparently were unheard, because no one noticed them missing until Friday, when 18-year-old Cortlandt became suspicious and went looking for his brothers, Northampton County Coroner Zachary Lysek said. When Parker couldn't get into the apartment, a Santee Manor worker opened the door and police were called.

''They were in a very advanced state of decomposition, indicating that the deaths occurred several days to a week ago,'' Lysek said Saturday.

Most tenants at Santee Manor on Saturday said because the brothers were new to the complex, they knew them only in passing. Andrew's Suzuki Marauder motorcycle and Daniel's Ford Escort car sat in the parking lot. Other than the pungent smell in the hallway and two strands of police tape across the door of the apartment, there was no indication that a gruesome crime had occurred.

Controversial religion

Their quiet demeanor and polite manners gave little indication of the family's prominence or its affiliation with a controversial sect.

Their grandfather, Cortlandt Parker Sr., founded the chain of weekly newspapers and converted the family farm into a vineyard in 1993. He died last month at 80.

The brothers' father, Cortlandt Jr., is editor of the Hunterdon, N.J., Review, and recipient of several journalism awards, Magyar said. Cortlandt Jr. and wife Piedad had four sons, including 5-year-old Jeremiah, at home in Pohatcong Township. Piedad, who returned Friday after spending the summer in her native Colombia, and her husband could not be reached for comment.

Cortlandt Jr. met Piedad in the mid-1970s while he was following the Children of God religious sect in Medellin, Colombia. The sect preached total sacrifice to Jesus, and members described themselves as a Christian fellowship devoted to recruiting others to follow in the model of Jesus.

But its founder, David Berg, and his policies quickly came under fire. One policy, called the ''Flirty Fishing Doctrine,'' mapped out a plan to use young girls to go into bars to seduce men, using sex if necessary, to recruit men into the sect.

Soon international news organizations were calling the Children of God, now known as the Family, ''the sex cult,'' and Berg's use of terms such as ''Hookers for Jesus'' did little to dissuade the bad publicity. The Flirty Fishing policy ended in 1987, but the reputation of sexual abuse has followed the sect.

The Parkers remain members of the Family, but in a 1999 interview published on a religious Web site, the brothers' parents said they opposed the sect's sexual policies.

Cortlandt Parker, the 18-year-old brother, said his family members were still members of the Family but he said their involvement was far from controversial.

''We just went down there and hung out with other Christians,'' he said of retreats organized by the Family in Maryland .

The three older brothers were born in Colombia. The Parkers returned to New Jersey in 1985, initially living with Magyar, and then moving to Pohatcong Township. It's the same home that today is filled with the question family members know may never be answered.

''Why?'' Magyar said. ''It's something we will agonize over for a long, long time.''

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