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DA: Boy was likely asleep when shot by his father; Chardo says Staats’ gun was used, case is closed

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/23/19

“Dad, You Must Be A Surfer Hero.”

So read the poster hanging on the wall of the kitchen in the small apartment where 7-year-old Joaquim Caddell lived at 134 S. Union St. in …

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DA: Boy was likely asleep when shot by his father; Chardo says Staats’ gun was used, case is closed

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“Dad, You Must Be A Surfer Hero.”

So read the poster hanging on the wall of the kitchen in the small apartment where 7-year-old Joaquim Caddell lived at 134 S. Union St. in Middletown.

The poster was a few steps away from Joaquim’s bedroom, where Joaquim was shot and killed by his father, Marvin Caddell, in the murder-suicide that occurred in the third-floor apartment Wednesday, Jan. 2.

The poster left an impression on Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo, who led the investigation into the murder-suicide along with Middletown police.

“That bothered me a great deal,” Chardo told the Press & Journal about the poster, which he had a photo of on his phone. “The fact that when you’ve got a father that kills his child, and the child had obviously held him in high esteem.”

“He would have seen that poster before he fired that shot. It was within feet of where he did that.”

Caddell shot the boy first as Joaquim lay sleeping in his bedroom, according to Chardo, based on results of the investigation at the scene by Middletown police and the Capital Regional Forensic Unit.

Caddell then shot and killed his wife and Joaquim’s mother, Nightflower Staats, before Caddell shot and killed himself, Chardo said.

Chardo said he regards the investigation into the murder-suicide as being “closed.” There is no possibility of any criminal charges being filed.

The murder-suicide occurred sometime the day of Jan. 2, when most other people who live in the building weren’t around to hear the shots because they were at work or in school, the DA said.

Not until three days later — Saturday night, Jan. 5 — were the three bodies discovered after Middletown police were dispatched to the apartment shortly after 8 p.m.

A local pastor who had been assisting Caddell and Joaquim on an ongoing basis had asked police to do a “welfare check” on the apartment, because the pastor had not seen or heard from Caddell since he last saw him on Wednesday.

Caddell and Staats had been separated, but Staats was at the apartment that day. Chardo confirmed that Caddell used Staats’ gun. The DA believes that Caddell fired three shots.

Caddell was a convicted felon who was not legally allowed to possess a gun. Staats did not have a criminal record, and “It is my belief that she acquired the pistol lawfully,” Chardo said.

He could not identify the make and model of the gun, and further noted that his office did not trace the weapon back to its manufacturer, as would have been done had there been an investigation leading to criminal charges.

The DA said he would not speculate on what drove Caddell to murder his son and wife and to take his own life.

Sources have told the Press & Journal that Caddell and Joaquim had been at Wesley United Methodist Church earlier the same day, and that the pastor who had helped them took them to get groceries after leaving the church.

The pastor then dropped Caddell and his son off at the apartment sometime that afternoon.

If anything was wrong, it was not evident to those who have spoken with the Press & Journal who interacted with Caddell and Joaquim that day.

Chardo said he is “thankful” that it appears to investigators that Joaquim was asleep when he was shot.

“It’s an awful thing, the taking of a child’s life, but that the child would know that his father is about to kill him, and that his last moments alive would include that knowledge just adds to the horror…that he didn’t experience that terror before he died,” he said.

Within a few hours of the bodies being discovered, Middletown police had posted on its Crimewatch website that the killings were an apparent murder-suicide.

Investigators could quickly ascertain that, mostly due to the location of the bodies, Chardo said. Caddell’s was the first found, right inside the entrance to the apartment. The weapon was next to his body.

“The evidence spoke for itself,” the DA said. “Circumstantial evidence is just the intuitive use of common sense, and that’s what we did here. We looked at the circumstantial evidence to figure out what happened.”

Five security cameras had been installed inside the small apartment, including one pointing into Joaquim’s bedroom.

But none of the cameras were active at the time of the murder-suicide, and they did not capture anything.

Chardo said he understood that the cameras were installed by a previous tenant, not Caddell.

George Crist, who has owned the building since 2014, told the Press & Journal that he did not recall the security cameras being in the apartment when Caddell took possession of the unit.

Caddell, Joaquim and Staats had lived in the apartment less than a year, according to Crist.

Crist said he knew of Caddell’s record as a convicted felon from doing a check, but that the felony was “very old.” Caddell was convicted of robbery in 1994, and sentenced to two to five years in state prison.

Crist said he uses discretion in deciding whether to rent to a felon. If the conviction is of a sexual nature and the person is a registered sex offender, Crist said he won’t rent to the person, especially if they are looking to lease in a multi-unit building such as the apartments on South Union Street.

Otherwise, Crist said he must be careful as a landlord to not be seen as discriminating against someone just because they have a criminal record.

“There are laws on the books regarding equal opportunity. … Everybody’s got to live somewhere,” he said.

Staats had moved out of the apartment with Joaquim in July, according to Caddell’s sister, Rhonda Howard of Philadelphia.

She later moved back into the apartment with Joaquim, although Howard said she did not know exactly when.

Staats then decided to leave again, but this time left Joaquim with Caddell, according to Howard.

Caddell and Joaquim did not regularly attend Wesley United Methodist Church, but Caddell was involved in the 10xBetter community ministry that operates out of the Wesley church at 64 Ann St. in Middletown, Wesley pastor the Rev. Naylo Hopkins told the Press & Journal. Hopkins is not the pastor who requested police do the welfare check.

For example, Caddell and Joaquim both helped 10xBetter give away turkeys to needy families this past Thanksgiving.

Hopkins said that Caddell and Joaquim attended Sunday services at Wesley once, shortly before Christmas. Caddell and Joaquim then both attended Christmas Eve services at Wesley.

Beyond that, Caddell and Joaquim were not active in the Wesley church itself, except for their involvement with 10xBetter, Hopkins said.

Hopkins believes that Caddell and Joaquim were attending church elsewhere, and that Caddell was interested in becoming a member of that church.

The Wesley congregation was shocked and saddened by news of the murder-suicide, Hopkins said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Caddell had also begun the process of enrolling Joaquim in Middletown Area School District, according to Howard. But Joaquim was not enrolled in the district at the time of his death, said Superintendent Lori Suski.

The Dauphin County Coroner’s office has also closed its investigation on the case. No toxicology tests were done to detect the presence of alcohol or drugs in Caddell’s system at the time of the murder-suicide, or of Staats or of Joaquim, an official with the coroner’s office told the Press & Journal.

Determining the cause and manner of death was the extent of the investigation necessary in this case, the coroner official said.

While Chardo considers the case closed, he told the Press & Journal he will as standard procedure review the final report of the investigation, to make sure there are no “flags raised.” He does not expect to see any.

Chardo said he has been told that police were dispatched to the apartment before. However, Chardo said he is not sure if police were dispatched to an incident involving Caddell and his family, or to one involving the tenants who lived in the apartment before.

Chardo said his office checked to see if Staats — or Caddell — had filed a Protection From Abuse order, and found none. However, the DA said that his query would only have identified an “active” PFA, not one that had expired.

Chardo also said he does not know of Caddell and his family ever being referred by Middletown police, or by anyone else, to another agency such as Dauphin County Children & Youth.

Chardo recently created a new ombudsman position in the Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office, “to see how when we have failures how can we do it better the next time.”

However, he doesn’t see the murder-suicide of Marvin Caddell, Nightflower Staats, and Joaquim as being a candidate for review by the ombudsman.

“It doesn’t appear so far that there was law enforcement involvement such that we could have done something different,” Chardo said. “I don’t think there is anything within our area that there was a failure that I can perceive that I would refer it to the ombudsman to say, ‘Hey, how can we do it better?’ But that’s just preliminary.”