Investigators were trying to determine what led Michael Stasko to kill his wife and 8-year-old daughter, and then himself.
EDGEWATER, N.J. — By dinnertime on Christmas, Mellie Stasko’s uncle had grown worried.
Mellie, 8, was supposed to have arrived at her relatives’ home in Missouri by early afternoon after a 17-hour drive with her parents from their luxury apartment in Edgewater, along the Hudson River, authorities said. At 7:09 p.m., after trying unsuccessfully to get the parents on their cellphones, the uncle called the Edgewater police.
When they entered the family’s 17th-floor apartment, investigators found an incongruous scene. In one room, presents were stacked beneath a neatly kept Christmas tree, and holiday cards suggested Mellie “very much loved her father,” said John Molinelli, the Bergen County prosecutor.
But Mellie’s body, clothed in pajamas, was found in her parents’ bed, a gunshot wound in the back of her head near her left ear, authorities said. Beside her lay her mother, Melisa Stasko, 49, shot on the right side of the back of her head.
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The gunman was Mellie’s father, Michael Stasko, 53, who had fatally shot himself under the chin with a .45-caliber handgun, Molinelli said.
On Saturday, investigators were trying to determine what led Stasko, who sold custom watches to police officers, to kill his family.
“We don’t know whether it’s financial, we don’t know whether it is familial, we don’t know really what was perhaps going through Mr. Stasko’s mind for him to do this,” Molinelli said at a news conference late Friday. Referring to Mellie, he added: “For her sake, we’ll get to the bottom of it, hopefully very soon.”
Molinelli declined to discuss what the uncle in Missouri — Stasko’s brother — or other relatives had told police about the family.
The police determined, based in part on the temperature of the bodies, that the killings had occurred on the evening of Dec. 22 or early Dec. 23. Molinelli said Melisa Stasko and Mellie might have been sleeping when they were shot.
The deaths turned a hushed Christmas setting into a locus of grief and bewilderment at the Windsor at Mariners Tower and Cove, a redbrick building where, authorities said, the Staskos had recently moved after living in New York.
“Everyone is really shaken,” Ann Wilkinson, who lived in the building for five years before moving to a nearby town house, said Saturday. “It’s disheartening,” she added. “Then you feel guilty because here you are celebrating. It’s the holidays and someone was definitely going through something.”
With investigators swarming the building late Friday and residents caught up in their holiday routines, the scene was “controlled chaos,” she said.
Others struggled to square the news with their memories of the Stasko family.
Miguelina Castaldi, 42, a teacher who also lives in a town house nearby, described the family as “very conservative and quiet.”
“He was very protective, always holding his daughter’s hand,” she said. “He just seemed like a loving father, so it’s just shocking, especially in this community.”
Investigators had not found anyone in the building who heard gunshots, perhaps a result, in part, of Stasko’s putting a towel or blanket on the front of the gun as a silencer, Molinelli said.
Evidence of Stasko’s business was scattered through the home in the form of purchase receipts and “quite a few watches,” Molinelli said.
His website advertises watches customized for police officers in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Las Vegas, including ones with the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and Sergeants Benevolent Association shield imprinted on the face, that sold for $500 or $600.
The website said it donated 10 percent of its sales of New York City police watches to funds that support widows and children of slain officers or other law-enforcement causes.