Authorities: 100 leads in slain N.C. family case

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Authorities: 100 leads in slain NC family caseNEWTON (AP) ó A 3-year-old boy was eating breakfast cereal at the kitchen table when he was shot in the quadruple killing of his family in their western North Carolina home, authorities said Monday in their first detailed account of the killings.
The boy’s adult sister called her younger sister Thursday, warning her not to come home after she left for school, Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman said. The teenager came home anyway, and both were killed.
Huffman didn’t elaborate on why the sister made the warning call.
Authorities later found Lisa Saephan, 40, and her three children ó 20-year-old Melanie, 18-year-old Pauline and 3-year-old Cody ó shot or stabbed to death in the house near Conover, about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte.
“We do not believe this to be a random event and feel that this particular family was the focused target of this vicious attack,” Huffman said. “We are continuing to work around the clock to determine the reason for the attack and feel that if the motive can be determined, our investigators will be able to focus on the perpetrator.”
The teen’s friend called 911 that morning, screaming and sobbing as she said the teen had just been pulled into the house by a man and stabbed, according to previously released 911 tapes. An expert is now trying to determine whether she was stabbed inside or on the front porch.
Authorities are following more than 100 leads in their search for a suspect, and several more came in after a sketch of a suspect was featured on Saturday night’s television broadcast of “America’s Most Wanted.”
The children’s father and their mother’s husband, Brian Tzeo, 44, was at work when his family was killed. He hardly eats and shakes when he looks at the family photograph he carries while he stays at a hotel in nearby Hickory. Although he’s been back to his home, he can’t face the thought of going inside.
“I don’t want to. I know I would break down and go crazy,” he told The Associated Press on Monday, sitting in his hotel room. “I want to bury my family. I don’t know what I’m going to do after that.”
Tzeo lived in a refugee camp in Laos before emigrating to the U.S. for a better life. His wife also had lived in a refugee camp before she left the southeast Asian country. They later got married and had children, including a long awaited son to carry his name after his family moved to North Carolina.
Tzeo recalled being nervous when he left his house for work early Thursday, asking his daughter to unplug his home’s automatic garage door after noticing the opener had gone missing from his car.
“Somebody took it out of my car visor. I told my family about it. I had a feeling that someone was going to break into my house. Maybe steal money. I had this very bad feeling,” he said. “I didn’t see anything suspicious.”
The family had lived in Conover for almost 10 years after moving from California. “It reminded me of home, with the change of seasons,” Tzeo said.
He wants his family buried in California, where his brother and sister live. His co-workers are trying to raise money to help cover the costs. Two of them were with him Monday, trying to help him make funeral arrangements.
“Everyone is just heartbroken and devastated,” said Gina Simmons, 43. “He’s very well liked. What he’s going through is just horrible. How could someone do that to his family and a small boy?”
Authorities have said they found a gun near Tzeo’s home, but they’ve released few details about their investigation except to say they are looking for the suspicious man seen outside the home on the morning of the killings.
Tzeo said his family had no enemies but acknowledged Monday he’d had an affair and “made a mistake.” He said he and his wife were trying to work things out. The woman with whom Tzeo had a relationship went to authorities Friday and told them about the affair, Huffman said.
“She wasn’t angry. She just wanted to let us know what happened,” he said.
Officers also talked to Tzeo about the affair. Huffman refused to rule out anyone as a suspect, but said Tzeo likely didn’t play a role in his family’s slaying.