ELLENVILLE – Village trustee Efrain “Ping” Lopez shot his longtime domestic companion and a man she had recently dated, before killing himself in a downtown village parking lot Thursday morning.
Just before 10 a.m., village police got a direct call reporting two people were shot, with and a man fleeing the site of the killings outside the Canal Lock Apartments at 110 Center St. Out of caution and in light of multiple 911 reports that a man was heading toward Ellenville High School, the school was put on lockdown.
The victims were identified as Margarita Soto and Jose Cruz, Ellenville police chief Phil Mattracion said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Mattracion said Cruz had pulled into the parking lot and Lopez pulled in behind him. Cruz got out of his car and Lopez followed, armed with a 30-30 lever action rifle. Lopez shot Cruz and then went to his car where Soto was sitting in the passenger seat. Lopez shot Soto through the passenger side window and then killed himself. Mattracion said police pieced together the events from witnesses, who were still being interviewed Thursday afternoon.
The chief said that while much more information needed to be sorted out, there was talk that Soto had recently returned to Ellenville after having been away for months. She had begun dating Cruz, who police believe lived in Ellenville. Lopez was apparently “not happy about it” (the dating), Mattracion said.
Police gave Lopez’s address as 174 Canal St. Addresses of the victims were still being sorted out. The chief said he had known Lopez for 30 years and that it was hard to explain his “shock and disappointment.” “I can’t fathom it,” he said.
Ellenville police were assisted by the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, including the K-9 unit, state police, who also sent a helicopter, and town police from Fallsburg and Shawangunk, and the investigation is continuing, including scouring social media to help explain what drove Lopez to murder. Police said that as of Thursday afternoon no suicide note had been found.
Lopez, 55, worked 30 years for the Ellenville Central School District as a custodian and students were used to seeing him at school. After the lockdown was lifted at the school on Maple Avenue, some teachers told students what had gone on. In one class, there was shock and tears at the news, said one student who had endured the near hourlong lockdown without a clue as to what happened.
The district released a statement saying, “We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life and our heartfelt condolences go out to the friends and family of everyone involved. This afternoon, all staff will be briefed on the resources that are available and we will discuss plans for supporting students, and each other, in this crisis. On Friday, we will also ensure students know support is available to them and understand how to access it.”
By many accounts, Lopez was a nice guy. In November, he was re-elected to a four-year term on the village Board of Trustees. People gathered in groups along Canal Street and spoke quietly about the tragic loss of life.
“A very nice family,” said Ruben Adorno, a deacon at the Hosanna Assembly of God church. “This is crazy,” said Adorno, who had spoken to Lopez Thursday morning. He said Lopez like to go deer hunting and would give meat to Adorno. “Jealousy,” Adorno said, shaking his head. “Lord have mercy.”
As Adorno spoke, members of Lopez’s family gathered by the side of the church. They politely declined to talk, saying they would have “no comment at this time.”
Inside the church, Angel Lopez, an assembly trustee, said he was in the church office when he hear four shots. He said he looked outside, first toward the school because he has grandkids who go there. But he didn’t see anything and went back in the church until he heard sirens.
“He was an OK guy,” said Lopez, who is not related to the shooter.