- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

CONOVER, N.C. (AP) - Screaming and sobbing, a teenage girl dialed 911 to report that a friend had been yanked into her own North Carolina home by a strange man who was stabbing and beating her.

By the time authorities arrived, the friend and three family members were dead.

Recordings of the unidentified teen’s panicked calls were released Friday to The Associated Press as puzzled authorities near Conover, a town tucked amid rolling hills and farmland about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte, tried to piece together what happened.

They say Lisa Saephan and her three children _ 20-year-old Melanie, 18-year-old Pauline and 3-year-old Cody _ were stabbed or shot to death in their home early Thursday, apparently by a suspicious man seen outside that morning.

The friend who called 911 told authorities she saw a man outside the house when she drove up around 7 to give Pauline a ride to school. When they returned to the house to investigate, they heard crying through the front door, the friend told the 911 dispatcher.

“And then when she knocked on the door the guy opened it and he started beating her up … he was stabbing her,” the girl, who fled, told the dispatcher through sobs.

Brian Tzeo, Saephan’s husband and the children’s father, had left for work shortly before his family was killed.

“I can’t stop thinking about them,” a devastated Tzeo told The Associated Press Friday evening. “I’ve been holding and carrying around family pictures and crying. I don’t know if I will ever get over this pain.”

He said he and his wife recently separated by they were still living together and trying work things out.

“Whoever did this knew the family’s routine,” said family friend Mai Cai, who lives next door. “They knew that Brian went to work the same time every morning.”

Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman said that was probably correct.

“They did not arbitrarily pick that house,” he said. “They knew who lived there and what the situation was because the father had gone to work in another county, apparently. The person apparently knew the pattern, if you will, that the three women and the little child would be there.”

Tzeo said he doesn’t know of anyone who would be a suspect.

About 30 investigators were digging for clues, including hitting the streets, stopping drivers in the neighborhood and hoping for something on the mysterious man that will help narrow their focus.

Authorities were examining a gun found in a yard nearby. Huffman also said authorities found two stolen vehicles still running Thursday, one near the home and one near one of the victims’ schools. He wasn’t sure if the vehicles were connected to the killings.

“We’re just grabbing at straws right now, but the information is coming in very good _ both materially and verbally,” Huffman said.

Friday night, authorities released a composite sketch of the strange man they believe was at the home. He had jet black hair and was last seen wearing a blue hooded sweat shirt and driving away in a black four-door sedan.

News of the deaths shocked many people in the subdivision, where word of the crime spread quickly, said Jim Williams, a truck driver who was walking near the home Friday.

“To kill a whole family. It’s sick. We’re all shaken up,” he said.

Tzeo, who came to the U.S. from Laos in the early 1980s, said he doesn’t have enough money to bury his family. He’d like to lay them to rest in Richland, Calif., near where his sister and brother live, the only family he has left in the U.S.

“I feel lost,” he said. “They were my life and now they’re gone. How could somebody do this? Why would somebody hurt my family?”

___

Walker reported from Raleigh. Associated Press Writer Mike Baker in Raleigh contributed to this report.

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