LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Neighbors said Craig Mueller was "polite," and co-workers called him "conscientious," descriptions that were at odds Tuesday with the violent rampage the 45-year-old unemployed electrician allegedly went on the day before, killing his brother, a neighbor and himself.

Several neighbors said they had seen Bryan Mueller, 52, moving possessions out of the Westchester Drive town home he shared with Craig Mueller in the days before the murder-suicide.

Police say Craig Mueller perched in a second-story window and fired bursts from a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle at Bryan Mueller at about 10:15 a.m. Monday as Bryan was bringing a television set out of the house on a hand truck.

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Then, police say, Craig Mueller shot and killed Cara Ellis, 21, as she ran to help Bryan.

Authorities say Mueller then killed himself with a single shot.

Neighbor Valerie King was still practically speechless more than a day after watching Ellis get shot.

"This is just so sad. Cara was such a nice and caring girl who loved animals," King said.

Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford on Monday called Ellis a "Good Samaritan" who may not have even known Bryan Mueller but was apparently killed trying to help him.

Outside the Westchester Drive town home Tuesday sat a bullet-riddled minivan; shattered glass littered the lawn and sidewalk, and police cars idled nearby. More than 50 bullet casings were found at the scene and more live rounds inside the home, said investigators, who were still searching for clues to what led Mueller to go on a deadly shooting spree in the Tall Timbers housing development here.

Deputy Chief Michael Mohel, of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said investigators were still doing interviews into Craig Mueller's background as of Tuesday afternoon and that no further information would likely be available until this morning.

Craig Mueller was a lead electrician at the Viking Yacht Company in Bass River Township, and was described as a "conscientious, reliable, good worker," who had never had a complaint filed against him, Viking spokesman Peter Frederiksen said.

"He had a lot of responsibility here and there was never any issue with him," said Frederiksen, adding the company had no contact with Mueller since he was furloughed in April.

Viking has had to issue furloughs to as many as 700 workers since the recession began in 2007 and announced 175 more indefinite furloughs last week.

"He was the kind of guy that you'd hate to let go. That's why we furloughed him instead of laying him off, so we could bring him back when things improved," Frederiksen said.

Frederiksen said the company was shocked by the news of the shooting.

"Nothing in life prepares you for this type of tragedy," he said. "It just comes out of nowhere."

Tall Timbers residents, meanwhile, were still trying to make sense of the violent crime that many of them either witnessed or were displaced by.

Laura Giberson was sitting on her couch watching television with her son, Ryan, when she watched Bryan Mueller get shot. On Tuesday, Giberson said she was scheduling a doctor's appointment because of the toll being a witness to such an event was taking on her.

"It looked like he was in the middle of moving out. I saw him walking out to his car with a television in his arms and then - pop, pop, pop - he was down," said Giberson, who then took shelter with the family dog in the bathroom while her son called 911. "After that, I remember hearing three more bursts of gunfire before my son came to get me out of the house. We ran through the woods in the rain until the State Police stopped us and told us where to go."

Giberson said the two Mueller brothers interacted with their neighbors differently.

"The older brother was always outside and would ride around on his bike. He would make sure to acknowledge me when I was outside working in my garden or if they were outside grilling," said Giberson, whose back door opens up to the crime scene. "The younger brother really kept to himself. Even more than usually lately. In fact, the blinds to their house were hardly ever closed but for the last few weeks they were closed all the time."

Giberson's boyfriend, Jack Zapf, said his 1994 Ford Aerostar was riddled with more than 20 bullet holes.

"He loved that car," Giberson said. "Now it's totaled."

"I think it will be a few days, at least, for things around here to return to normal," said Michael Wright, 36, a neighbor of the Muellers. Following the shooting, Wright said he had taken his family to a relative's house because they didn't feel safe going home.

"We weren't home at the time, but the shootings happened in our backyard - right outside our window. That's not something you get over right away," Wright said.

There was no police line Tuesday around the development and Tall Timbers residents who had left the night before were able to return to their homes.

Mohel said investigators found 50 to 70 spent .223 cartridges at the scene as well as "a quantity of live rounds" and other guns.

King said she saw Ellis' husband, Matthew, at the police station Monday afternoon.

"I gave him a cigarette and then he put it out to go inside to talk to the police. When he came outside he lit up the same cigarette, but had tears in his eyes and couldn't talk. He was just so very solemn," she said. "I just feel so bad for him - everyone should."

Friends and family shared prayers and memories of Ellis on social-networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube on Tuesday.

"This beautiful girl was a wonderful spirit. Always helpful, great friend, loving person. My prayers go out to the family, the husband, and to all her great friends. She will be missed dearly and we will never forget her. Love you," the person who posted the YouTube video wrote.

Staff writers Donna Weaver and Dan Good contributed to this report.

Contact Robert Spahr:




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