Temecula deaths likely a murder-suicide

Peter Rosati walked into his kitchen Sunday afternoon and heard a series of sharp cracks outside -- then another, and another. On the third volley, a flock of ducks fluttered up noisily from the nearby country club pond.

Then there was silence.

"I figured someone was shooting at the ducks," he said, "trying to scare them away."

Someone was shooting, but not at ducks. Next door in the Temecula cul-de-sac four people lay dead, with a fifth mortally wounded. She died a few hours later. Three of the victims were sprawled on the back patio, which looks down on the Temeku Hills Golf and Country Club. The others were inside on the floor.

Authorities recovered a handgun from the Iron Circle house Monday and said the incident appeared to be murder-suicide. They identified the resident of the home as Jeffrey Blixt, 45, formerly of Desert Hot Springs, who was found dead inside.

A 17-year-old named Matthew Blixt was among the dead. Sheriff's spokesman Dennis Gutierrez confirmed that the boy was Jeffrey Blixt's son.

Authorities have not released the identities of the three other victims -- a 34-year-old woman and two 15-year-old girls who were related but did not live in the home, sheriff's officials said. Blixt was not related to the women and girls, they added.

Authorities are still investigating the motive.

"There was nothing out of the ordinary in the house," Gutierrez said. "The garage door was open and the door between the garage and the house was open. . . . There were no signs of a struggle."

The group were barbecuing before they were shot sometime after 5 p.m., police said.

"Jeff was in good spirits the last time I saw him, which was Friday," said Charles Huckey, 46, who rode motorcycles with Blixt. "He was an all-around nice guy, but he was in financial trouble. He was running a moving company which was in trouble, because no one can sell their house so no one is moving. He was also separated from his wife. But I never saw this coming."

Court records confirm Blixt's difficulties.

He filed for bankruptcy twice, in August 1998 and in October 2005.

Blixt was sued for defaulting on a $4,563 loan from 2002. After being ordered to pay $2,500, Blixt sent a letter to the court requesting more time. He described himself as a truck driver hoping to set up a payment plan after the court made final the division of assets with his former wife.

"I'm in no position to pay the debt in full," Blixt wrote in November 2004. "I have full custody of my children, and I receive no child support at this time. I'm trying my best to get back on my feet financially from this divorce but it takes time and money."

He said he was earning $4,000 a month and taking care of his then 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. He paid off the debt in 2005.

A client of his company, Executive Movers, sued Blixt in 2005 for failing to complete a moving job from Murrieta, Calif., to Idaho Falls, Idaho. The court ordered him to pay $1,318.

Huckey said Blixt had recently separated from his second wife, who could not be reached for comment.

Neighbors described him as cordial but insular.

"They moved in about eight months ago; they were renters but there were no problems," said Dyan O'Bourke, 35, who lives a few doors down in the well-manicured neighborhood. "They kept to themselves and didn't get close to anyone. He had a bunch of toys -- golf carts, motorcycle. There were always a lot of people there."

O'Bourke said after police arrived on the scene about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, a distraught woman in a black pickup tried to drive in but was stopped by an officer.

"He asked, 'Are you OK?' and she said, 'Of course I'm not OK, my whole family is dead.' "

The scale of the crime has stunned this usually peaceful city.

Temecula's low rate of violent crime in recent years has made it one of the safest cities in Riverside County.

In 2006, Temecula's violent crime rate ranked among the lower third of cities in Riverside County that reported crime figures to the FBI, according to a Times analysis of the data adjusted for population.

Between 2002 and 2006, there were only five slayings in Temecula, a city of 90,000. Four of those were in 2005.

Among the high-profile homicides that year:

* A former Navy chief petty officer was accused of killing his wife and dumping her body in the Cajon Pass.

Philip Charles Rivers was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to from 26 years to life in prison.

* Two men suspected of ties to a San Diego gang held up Rancho Liquor store in Old Town Temecula and are accused of killing the clerk, Rafi Ibrahim, 34. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

* A transient known as John "Animal" Scorelle was stabbed to death in Old Town Temecula in April 2005.

* In October 2005, the body of Maria Lopez, 22, was found in a riverbed in Temecula and her former boyfriend was charged with the crime.

The worst that neighbor Luis Zizzo ever saw was children throwing bottles packed with dry ice on front lawns -- bottles that could presumably explode.

"That was pretty much the extent of the problems," said Zizzo, 55. "I can't recall any violence around here."

In recent years, the city's population has exploded and has grown more culturally and economically diverse. Many older residents remember when Temecula had as many horses as people and there was only one traffic light.

"When I moved here 20 years ago, there were 4,000 people. Now it's 90,000," said Chuck Colburn, 72, who lives in a house overlooking Iron Circle. "The only thing that bothers me is there are so many houses for sale, and people can't sell them so they are renting, and renters may not be the same class of people."

That view was echoed by others here: Foreclosures have skyrocketed, and more and more homes are being turned into rentals.

"Everyone knew everyone in this neighborhood," said Diana Chavez, 48. "When the lottery was $300 million, we all organized a pool. But there was never any violence, not even a can of beer on the street. But when renters come in, it's not good."

John Elzonga, 55, watched the parade of news trucks pulling into the cul-de-sac.

"The point is Temecula is a great place to live and a great place to raise kids," he said. "I raised six kids here. That's why people come here."