- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Police called in the FBI yesterday to aid in their search for the vice principal of an elementary school as a possible suspect in the shooting deaths of five persons, including three children.

The five — including a grandmother and a mother — were found dead in their Bakersfield home yesterday morning. Police said they apparently had been shot many times.

Detective Mary DeGeare said officers were looking for Vincent Brothers, 41, the vice principal at Fremont Elementary School. Detective DeGeare said Mr. Brothers is the estranged husband of the younger woman and father of at least two of the dead children, and had periodically lived in the house.

“He is a person of interest, a possible suspect,” Detective DeGeare said. “We’d like to find him to determine whether he was responsible or eliminate him as a suspect.”

Police were called to the home early yesterday by a family friend who had gone to check on them.

The coroner identified the victims as Earnestine Harper, 70; her daughter Joanie Harper, 39; and grandchildren Marques Harper, 4; Lindsey Harper, 23 months; and Marshall Harper, 1 months. The coroner said that it’s unknown when the five were killed, and that autopsies would be performed today.

Police Capt. Neil Mahan said Mr. Brothers’ pickup truck was found yesterday, but he would not say where.

The family lived in a tough neighborhood with a reputation for gang activity, but friends and family described them as active in the community and very religious. They attended both morning and afternoon services each Sunday at their local Church of Christ, but this week they didn’t show up in the afternoon, said Darren Dixon, 22, Earnestine Harper’s nephew.

“It’s shocking. These people weren’t the low-down type. No drugs. These were very religious people,” Mr. Dixon said.

Earnestine Harper worked with troubled children and refereed ballgames, said Mr. Dixon, who said he saw no friction in her relationship with Mr. Brothers. “She liked him a lot. He was a very nice guy.”

But Mr. Brothers has a history of marital difficulties, according to court records and police.

Two previous marriages ended quickly, and he and Joanie Harper formally separated less than two weeks after their marriage in January 2000.

In an earlier marriage, Mr. Brothers was convicted of spousal abuse, Capt. Mahan said. In his 1992 marriage, his wife filed for a restraining order, saying Mr. Brothers “is violent and has threatened to kill me.”

At school, Mr. Brothers was known as a stern leader who mixed encouragement and discipline in daily lessons to young people about how to survive in tough neighborhoods.

Earnestine Harper became well-known for bringing attention to accusations of prosecutorial misconduct in the case of Offord Lee Rollins, a high school football and track star who was vindicated on charges of raping and killing his girlfriend.

“I never heard anyone speak ill of her, even in her fight for the young man she believed in,” said Irma Carson, a Bakersfield City Council member who knew her well.

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