3 dead, 3 safe after 36-hour Trenton hostage drama

NBC News - Three children are safe after a 36-hour standoff with an armed man in Trenton, N.J., ended early Sunday, state law enforcement officials said...

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Three children are safe after a 36-hour standoff with an armed man in Trenton, N.J., ended early Sunday, state law enforcement officials said.

But the bodies of a woman, presumed to be home owner Carmelita Stevens, 44 — the mother of the children — and a young boy, presumed to be her 13-year-old son, were found decomposing in the home, police revealed at a Sunday morning press conference.

The hostage taker, identified as Gerald “Skip” Murphy,  38, was also killed during the rescue, officials said. He was not believed to have been related to any of the children.

The freed children, a 4-year-old boy, and 16- and 18-year-old girls, were being treated at a local hospital.

Lt. Steve Varn of Trenton Police said the hostage situation ended shortly before 5 a.m. ET, adding that the area around the home where it took place is now secure.

Police were alerted to the situation on Grand Street in Trenton at 2:47 pm on Friday, officials said.

Cops had received a call from a relative of Stevens, saying she hadn’t been seen her for a “long period of time” and that her two daughters had not been in school for 12 days, said Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph L. Bocchini Jr. at the Sunday news briefing.

When officers arrived at the Stevens home, they didn’t get a response when they knocked on the door, so made a forced entry through a rear door, Bocchini said. When they entered the residence, they immediately smelled the stench of a rotting corpse, and could see maggots, he said.

Upstairs, they found Murphy had barricaded himself inside the house with “multiple” hostages, saying he had a gun and explosives.

When police officers secured the rest of the premises, they discovered a 19-year-old man in the basement, also Stevens’ son, who said he hadn’t seen his mothers or sisters since mid April.

Homes in the surrounding area were also evacuated as a precautionary measure as hostage negotiators spent nearly two days communicating with Murphy, officials said. Food and bottled water was passed through an upstairs window for the children.

But, noting what NJ State Police Col. Rick Fuentes called Murphy’s “deteriorating state of mind,” officers eventually made an entry into the room where the hostages were being held, and a single shot was fired at the suspect as he made a violent move toward one of the children.

Murphy, who had warrants for not registering as a sex offender, and a rap sheet that included assault, robbery, weapons and child endangerment charges, was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Officials said it was too early to determine exactly when Stevens and the young boy had been killed, but said that they were in a state of decomposition.

Trenton police were supported by state police and FBI as well as the city’s arson and bomb and canine units, Varn said.

NBC News’ Justin Kirschner and Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report.