Monday, August 13, 2007

murder in rowland heights

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Neighbors stunned by family's deaths, woman's arrest
The Rowland Heights neighborhood remembers the husband and two boys fondly. Manling Williams is charged in their murders.
By Tiffany Hsu and James Ricci, Times Staff Writers
August 11, 2007

The block of town houses on Camino Bello in Rowland Heights has gone from a scene of flashing emergency lights and shocked disbelief to a place of quiet memorializing, as neighbors of Neal Williams and his two small sons began knitting their lives around the hole left by the three killings.

An impromptu memorial set up across from the victims' home has expanded to a dozen bouquets of fresh flowers; a couple dozen brightly colored stuffed crocodiles, pandas, rabbits and bears; a cross shaped by glass-encased candles; and several photos, including one of Devon, 7, Ian, 3, and their 27-year-old father at a Dodgers game.

Neighbors had set an empty 5-gallon plastic water jug amid all this, to collect donations to help pay for three funerals. Friday evening, it contained about $200.

On a light pole in front of the Williams house, which was cordoned off with yellow police tape, a poster was hung and a Sharpie pen was attached to it. Neighbors and passersby had written their sentiments to the dead.

"Neal … you were a great friend and dad. I know you will be a great dad in heaven," wrote Gina Cortez.

"I will always remember your kind heart, laughter, but most of all how much you loved your boys. Three beautiful lights have been extinguished, but we will always be there to remind the world that you and your boys lived and loved," wrote Ruth Najera.

Two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies stood watch in separate cars.

Meanwhile Friday, 27-year-old Manling Williams, wife of Neal and mother of Devon and Ian, was formally charged with three counts of murder. The charges cite the special circumstances of multiple homicides and lying in wait, which could bring the death penalty. She appeared in court in West Covina, but her arraignment was postponed until Aug. 31. She remains in custody without bail.

Homicide investigator Don Walls visited the Williams house Friday. He said that Manling Williams had made "incriminatory statements" to officers and told them she and her husband had "had problems." Walls said officers found evidence in the woman's car but declined to say what it was.

Autopsies were performed on the boys Friday. Sheriff's Det. Sgt. Bill Marsh said final results would not be available until additional pathological investigations, including toxicology tests, were completed. Their bodies showed no signs of trauma. An autopsy was to be performed on Neal Williams, who suffered several stab wounds, over the weekend.

"It's a very, very involved investigation," Marsh said. "It's intensive, one of the more intensive ones I've been involved in."

Friday evening on Camino Bello, a 22-year-old woman who gave her name only as Maria visited the makeshift memorial. She described herself as a friend and co-worker of Manling, whom she said everyone called Ling. She said Manling began working as a waitress at the Marie Callender's in the City of Industry in October.

Maria telephoned Manling from the restaurant about 9:30 the night before the bodies of her husband and sons were found and invited her to join her. She said Manling went to the restaurant and the two of them "hung out" for a time.

"She didn't say anything" about things being amiss at home, Maria said. "She said Neal was putting the kids to sleep."

Maria said Neal Williams spent most of his time at home, working on his computer for an insurance company.

She described the Williamses as "happy and outgoing. They were so active. I would go over to their house about once a week. The kids were always watching TV, or all four of them would be playing board games."

She said Manling Williams was friendly and talkative, a favorite of customers at the restaurant.

"I don't like hearing the stuff everyone else has to say about her," she said.

Also stopping at the memorial were Chris Lazarin and her husband, Johnny, who placed a bouquet there. "That was horrid, what the kids went through," she said. "I feel deep, deep sadness and anger. It just tears my heart apart. To think -- that 3-year-old is the same age as my granddaughter."

Manling Williams told neighbors that she discovered the bodies Wednesday morning, after having gone for a drive late Tuesday to "cool off her head." She later told investigators that she found the bodies when she returned from food shopping shortly after 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.Neighbor Linda Brown, 38, was among those who went to Manling Williams after she ran from her house that morning screaming that her husband was hurt. Brown said she and other neighbors formed a circle around Williams and hugged her. Meanwhile, a sheriff's deputy and Brown's son James, 19, discovered the bodies of the two boys in bunk beds in their upstairs bedroom.

Brown said Manling Williams was barefoot, wearing boxer shorts and smelled of alcohol.

"She didn't look like she went out shopping," Brown said. "We were crying more than she was. She wasn't even crying at all. I can't believe I comforted her. After she was arrested, I tried to wash my hands of her."

Other neighbors said, as Maria did, that the Williamses seemed a happy family, although Manling Williams was sometimes heard yelling at her husband, a "Star Wars" devotee and onetime Disneyland employee. He typically did not respond in kind, they said.

But a frequent visitor to the house next door to the Williamses disputed that.

Irene Chen, 18, said that she visited her boyfriend and another friend who live next door almost daily, and that Neal Williams frequently yelled at his wife. "We all thought it was really annoying," she said.

Several residents expressed dismay that such violence could occur in their safe, family-oriented neighborhood, an area of well-kept town houses with small front yards and numerous children.

"A lot of people get together around here to go to the pool down the street, or just to hang out," said 17-year-old Jennifer Cerda, who lives with four members of her family in a house across the street from the Williamses and was keeping watch over the memorial. "After what happened, everybody came together. This is a good neighborhood. Everybody around here is real peaceful."

Thursday night, she said, neighbors and friends of the Williamses held a candlelight vigil at the memorial. A little girl sang "Amazing Grace," and everyone prayed, she said.

Linda Brown was pleased as she watched police officers remove the yellow tape from the Williams home late Friday afternoon.

"I just want to get our block back," she said.


frectis said...

Wanna hear something random? The murdered dad was the best man in the wedding of someone I know. :(

Laura said...

Dood. That sucks! So sad that the crazy got them :(

- A fellow Disney Cast Member - said...

I worked with Neil at Disney's California Adventure when we had "back area" cleaning crews. He would talk about his family with nothing but love and respect.

The last time I talked with him
he showed me a picture of his 2 boys with a big grin on his face. In the year and 1/2 I worked with him, I have memories of him sitting quietly reading his books and thinking to myself how he was one of the most polite cast members I had ever met.
~I have his family in my prayers~

- A fellow Disney Cast Member -

cyberone13 said...

Neil was a good person. I knew him when he was younger. He was a friend of my son, Luke. They always had fun playing video games and card games like "Magic" He was at my house more times than I can count. I have been following this. It is just a tragedy that is impossible to fathom.

H. Ortiz

Anonymous said...

i went to high school with manling. she was weird