Elementary school vice principal turns self in
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — An elementary school vice principal wanted for questioning in the shooting deaths of his estranged wife, mother-in-law and three young children turned himself in early Wednesday in North Carolina.
The FBI and law enforcement agencies across the country had been asked to help search for Vincent Brothers, 41, after police discovered the bodies Tuesday in a Bakersfield home.
Elizabeth City, N.C., Police Sgt. Rick Pureza said Brothers turned himself in Wednesday just after midnight.
“He’s here voluntarily, waiting to be questioned by California authorities, who should be here within the hour. He seems upset, which anybody would be,” Pureza said.
Bakersfield Police Capt. Neil Mahan said Brothers is being treated as “a possible suspect” and that police had no other suspects in the slayings. Bakersfield detectives flew to North Carolina to question Brothers, who turned himself in after being informed of the killings by family in North Carolina, Mahan said.
“That does not mean we are not looking at other people or other motives at this time,” Mahan said. “Mr. Brothers is our primary focus at this time. It is important to either confirm or deny that he is involved.”
Brothers’ blue pickup was found Tuesday at an airport bus terminal in Bakersfield. Mahan said the truck had been there since July 2 — four days before the family was last seen.
Mahan refused to discuss evidence in the case, but said Brothers was a possible suspect due to witness accounts and because he “is the husband in this case, is the father in this case.” He said that police do not have the weapon used and that there are no weapons registered to Brothers.
The victims were identified by the Kern County coroner as Joanie Harper, 39; Harper’s three children, Marques Harper, 4, Lyndsey Harper, 23 months, and Marshall Harper, 11/2 months; and Harper’s mother, Earnestine Harper, 70.
Joanie Harper and Brothers were granted an annulment in September 2001 and Harper was given sole custody of Marques and Lyndsey, court records show. But police, relatives and friends all said Wednesday they thought Harper and Brothers were still married. It was unclear whether they had remarried.
Brothers is the father of the children and lived periodically with the family, said Darren Dixon, 22, a nephew of Earnestine Harper.
Police were called to the home at 6:55 a.m. Tuesday by a friend who had gone to check on the family. The bodies of Joanie Harper and her three children were found in a bedroom; Earnestine Harper was in another room.
Neighbors said the streets have been noisy with firecrackers for days because of the July 4 holiday so gunshots might have gone unnoticed.
The neighborhood has a reputation for gang activity, but friends and family described the family as active in the community and very religious.
The family was last seen alive Sunday morning at church. They ordinarily attended both morning and afternoon services at the local Church of Christ, but didn’t show up in the afternoon, Dixon said.
“It’s shocking,” he said. “These people weren’t the low-down type.”
Joanie Harper was a standout high school basketball player who worked with troubled children and refereed NCAA Division I basketball games, said Dixon. He said he saw no friction in her relationship with Brothers and didn’t see any potential for violence. Mahan also said there was no indication of violence in the relationship.
“She liked him a lot. He was a very nice guy,” Dixon said.
But Brothers has had a history of marital difficulties, according to court records and police.
Two previous marriages ended quickly, and he and Joanie Harper formally separated less than two weeks after their marriage in January 2000. He cited “irreconcilable differences,” while she checked “nullification based on fraud” as the reason she wanted a divorce.
Still, they stayed involved in each other’s lives and even lived together at times, friends and family members said.
In one earlier marriage, Brothers was convicted of spousal abuse, police said. In his 1992 marriage, his wife filed for a restraining order, saying Brothers “is violent and has threatened to kill me.”
Brothers worked at Emerson Middle School, across the street from where the victims were found, from 1989 to 1996. He started as a teacher and worked his way up to vice principal, said Michael Lingo, an assistant superintendent with the Bakersfield City School District. Since 1996, he has been an administrator at Fremont Elementary School, which has more than 1,000 students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.