Two men have been arrested for the murders of a mother, her two children and her girlfriend, who were all found brutally slain in their upstate New York home, but investigators are still working to determine a potential motive.
Shanta Myers, 36, her 11-year-old son Jeremiah "JJ" Myers, her 5-year-old daughter Shanise Myers and Shanta's partner, 22-year-old Brandi Mells, were found dead on Tuesday in their basement apartment located at 158 Second Ave. in Troy.
The women and children were bound and their throats were cut in what appeared to be a targeted killing, sources told the Albany Times Union.
A property manager who was asked by the victims’ family to check on them discovered the bodies Tuesday.
"Only a person of savagery would do something like this," Police Chief James Tedesco told reporters at a press conference shortly after the killings, noting it was the worst case he had seen in more than 40 years in law enforcement.
“Nobody that’s been involved in this case is going to forget this,” he added.
Investigators quickly began scouring for clues to identify who was behind the killings and on Saturday, officials announced they had two suspects in custody.
James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 24, both of Schenectady, N.Y., were arrested Friday. Each has been charged with first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder, officials said. They both pleaded not guilty at their arraignments Saturday.
They were being held at the Rensselaer County Correctional Facility without bail.
“I don’t have to tell you how good it feels to have these two defendants in custody,” Tedesco said at a news conference Saturday.
Police said they don't expect to make any further arrests.
White and Mann both have criminal records, and Mann was on parole at the time of the killings, Tedesco said.
Mann was sent to prison in 2014 for a robbery and released in June.
White severed nine years in prison from 2001 to 2010 after being convicted of manslaughter, according to public records.
He was banned from staying at a shelter several months ago due to violent outbursts and an inability to follow the rules, the shelter’s director told the Times Union.
“He was very troubled,” Executive Director Michael Saccocio told the newspaper. “He was aggressive, always getting into fights. We had to prohibit him from the campus.”
Officials have not revealed a motive in the killings.
One of the suspects was acquaintances with one of the victims, Tedesco said, but he did not provide further details.
“The investigation is still ongoing and that's one of the things that we're looking for," he told reporters.
All four victims were found with their hands and ankles bound and appeared to have their throats cut, sources told the Times Union. The children were found together in a kneeling position, while one of the women was on a mattress on the floor, and the other woman was found nearby, face down but covered with a sheet, the paper reported.
Police said technology played a large part in determining the day of the killings, which they said occurred about 9 p.m. on Dec. 21.
Investigators zeroed in on Mann and White after reviewing footage from security cameras in Troy, sources told the Times Union. Video, cell phones and cell tower data are still being reviewed, according to reports.
Since the killings, the community has rallied together to provide support for the victims’ families, including Shanta Myers’s only surviving child, who was not home when the murders occurred.
A GoFundMe page created for the family identified the surviving son as 16-year-old Isaiah Smith. As of Monday, more than $45,000 had been raised, which will be used in part to provide for Isaiah, the page’s organizer, Hollyanne Buntich, wrote.
Buntich noted that funeral costs for the family have been covered by an unnamed donor.
It appeared a second GoFundMe page was created to pay for the funeral of Brandi Mells.
“She was a loving and caring person,” the page’s organizer, Shivine Kelly, wrote. “She had a beautiful smile with a warm soul.”
The families of Mells and the Myers were in court as White and Mann made their first appearance Saturday.
“She was such an easygoing, loving person,” Mells’ uncle, Keith McCutchen, told the Times Union. “I can imagine the look in her eyes when this was happening, like, ‘Why would anyone do this to me?'"
White and Mann have both been appointed lawyers and are scheduled to make their next court appearance Thursday.