A despondent Whittier man who had been virtually jobless for two years gunned down his family and then killed himself in a blood bath that erupted midway through a 911 call his brother had made in an attempt to prevent the man’s suicide, authorities said Wednesday.
Thomas G. Morgan, 43, an unemployed geologist and occasional substitute teacher, died Tuesday night of a single gunshot wound after killing his elderly parents and wounding the younger brother who had tried to save his life, police said.
Morgan’s father, Frank Morgan, 73, and mother, Loretta, 71, died of multiple shots from the man’s .45-caliber handgun, police said. The brother, James Morgan, 40, who was shot in the stomach and wrist, was reported in critical condition at County-USC Medical Center.
“He just snapped,” said neighbor Joe Onesto, 34, as he strolled with his children near the tidy two-story house on Citrus Avenue where the killings occurred. Even the Morgan family dog, a black cockapoo, had been shot to death.
Police said the trouble began shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday when a dispatcher received an emergency call from James Morgan. According to a police tape of the call, the man calmly told the dispatcher that his older brother had been drinking and was pointing a loaded gun at his own head.
Suddenly, there was the sound of James Morgan dropping the phone as five gunshots exploded in the background and someone screamed, “Oh, my god!” As the dispatcher listened, the gunfire crackled on, punctuated by the high-pitched wail of the dog.
Officers who later burst into the house found Thomas Morgan’s body in the living room with his semiautomatic pistol nearby. Frank Morgan, a retired chemical engineer, had apparently managed to stumble out of the room before collapsing, authorities said. Loretta Morgan, a retired lab technician who sang in a local women’s choir, was found in a nearby bedroom.
Only James Morgan managed to flee, police said. Bleeding profusely, he was airlifted to the hospital from a neighbor’s home.
Whittier, a suburb east of Los Angeles, is known for its serene neighborhoods of historic and custom-built homes. Police said the Morgans’ neighborhood, on the northwest side of town, is among the oldest and most affluent in the city.
“This is one of those places where you say, ‘Gee, what a quiet, nice neighborhood,’ ” Whittier police spokesman Chuck Drylie said. “I’ve been here 19 years and I’ve never heard of anything like this happening.”
Police said there was no clear motive for the shooting. But neighbors said they believed Thomas Morgan had been depressed over his chronic unemployment.
Morgan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from UC Riverside, and until two years ago he had been a geologist in Oklahoma, neighbors said. But when he lost that job, they said, he was unable to find full-time work and moved into his parents’ home.
A neighbor who spoke on condition of anonymity said things had begun to look up last fall, when Morgan indicated he was planning to get a teaching credential. But, the neighbor said, Morgan never found more than substitute teaching jobs, and except for occasional stints in Montebello and Santa Fe Springs schools, he remained jobless.
“Being out of work as long as he was, I have the idea he must have gone off the deep end,” the neighbor said. “He just had so much bad luck.”