Tapes of 911 calls in two states provide details into the harrowing moments Thursday morning after a North Carolina man shot and killed two people in a pickup truck before turning the gun on himself.
Frantic witnesses called 911 around 8:40 a.m. Thursday to report that two people had been shot in a black pickup near the intersection of Routes 7 and 55 in New Milford.
The victims were later identified as Katie Pladl, 20, and her adoptive father, Anthony Fusco, 56, a retired New York state corrections officer.
The shooter, identified as Steven Walter Pladl, had fathered a son last fall with Katie Pladl, his biological daughter. She had recently ended their relationship and returned from North Carolina to her adoptive parents’ home in Dover, N.Y.
As Pladl sped away from the shooting scene on Route 7, a witness called 911.
“Someone just went by and shot this guy in a truck,” said the caller, who identified himself as a New York firefighter. “The car pulled up, went around him, shot him. Put a whole clip into his head.”
After taking a closer look, the witness told the dispatcher there were actually two bodies in the pickup.
Minutes later, Pladl’s mother called 911 in North Carolina and was transferred to police in the town of Knightdale, just outside Raleigh, where Pladl had a home. She told a dispatcher that her son had just called, saying he had killed his son, his daughter, and Fusco and was about to kill himself.
“He’s dead by now,” she told the dispatcher in a tape police released Friday. “He said he was taking his own life when he got off the phone.”
Pladl’s mother, whose name was not given, also told the dispatcher that Katie Pladl had broken up with her father and returned to Dover. She also said Pladl had picked up the infant from her house about 8 p.m. Wednesday, intending to take him to New York.
“I pleaded with him not to go,” the mother said. “And then he called me this morning to say they were all gone. He said he was going to kill himself because he couldn’t live without her.”
Knightdale police said Friday that the Pladls’ son, 7-month-old Bennett, had been found dead in a bathroom closet in Steven Pladl’s home. There were no obvious signs of trauma, police said, and the medical examiner has yet to determine the cause of death.
Even as his mother was speaking to police, Pladl was being sought by officers on both sides of the New York state line.
His minivan – a light blue Honda Odyssey with North Carolina plates – was spotted by a Dutchess County probation officer, parked with the engine running near the Ten Mile River in Dover. New Milford police said Friday he was dead when officers approached.
Authorities said Pladl killed himself with the same semi-automatic rifle that he used to kill his daughter and Fusco. There were no other weapons in the vehicle.
Katie Pladl, who had been adopted as an infant in 1998, grew up in New York state and graduated from Dover High School. The superintendent of the district, Michael Tierney, spoke highly of her.
“I’d see her walking around in the halls once in awhile,” he said. “She was well-spoken and a nice kid. She came from a nice family.”
The Fuscos adopted Katie the same year that Anthony Fusco retired from the New York Department of Corrections. Tierney said the couple were supportive parents and were active in the community.
According to news reports from North Carolina, Katie Pladl decided to find her birth parents when she turned 18. A social media search led her to Virginia, where Steven and Alyssa Pladl were living with their two daughters.
Alyssa Pladl told Britain’s
Steven and Katie Pladl were arrested in January and charged with incest as an adult, a felony punishable in Virginia by up to 10 years in prison.
In her phone call to police on Thursday, Pladl’s mother said authorities had seized several guns when he was arrested. Whether they left the semi-automatic rifle used in the shooting, or if he had obtained it after his arrest, was not clear Friday.
“He got arrested a couple of months ago and they took all the weapons out, except that one he has with him, I guess,” the mother said. “I can’t believe this. It’s unbelievable. How could he kill her?”
Meanwhile, in New Milford, the horrified witness told the dispatcher that he had pulled his own truck alongside the pickup to shield the bodies from public view and help stem the flow of traffic.
“He’s deceased, boss,” the witness said. “The truck’s in the middle of the road.”
“He’s dead?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes, sir, brains are on the road.”