Navy pilot killed self in San Diego murder-suicide

JULIE WATSON Associated Press Published:

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A New Year's Day shooting that left four people dead at a condominium near San Diego was a murder-suicide involving a 25-year-old Navy pilot who killed himself, officials said Wednesday.

John Robert Reeves shot himself in the head, and the three others with him were murdered, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said, citing autopsy results.

Fellow Navy pilot David Reis, also 25, was killed by a gunshot wound to the torso, and his 24-year-old sister, Karen, suffered a gunshot wound to the head and chest, officials said. Matthew Saturley, 31, of Chula Vista was shot multiple times.

Sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser said there were no outstanding suspects in the case, and police have found no evidence indicating there was an exchange of gunfire, although he declined to say if Reeves was the shooter, explaining that "we don't have forensic evidence yet to say that definitively."

"We have no eyewitnesses to what happened inside the residence," Fraser told reporters. "We don't know what the motive was."

Reeves' family members could not immediately be reached for comment.

The unusual case rocked the Navy's elite, tight-knit aviation community, many of whom live on Coronado, a picturesque peninsular enclave of 24,000 people on San Diego Bay that recorded only one homicide in 2010 and is home to Naval Air Station North Island.

It takes years of training to get wings as a Navy pilot. Aviation students are selected after standing out among their Navy peers, and fighter jet pilots are considered to be top performers among pilots.

Reeves, of Prince Frederick, Md., and Reis, of Bakersfield, Calif., were both F/A-18 fighter pilots assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing at nearby Miramar Air Station. Both men joined the Navy in 2008 at separate universities.

Pilots in the program undergo a battery of rigorous physical, psychological and background tests before finishing the highly competitive program, Navy officials said. Their top-notch skills and mental toughness were featured in Hollywood's "Top Gun" -- parts of which were filmed at Miramar.

The two Naval officers were in the final rung of their jet fighter training.

"The hardest thing you ever do in aviation is carrier landing aboard a ship at sea, so these guys were the pick of the litter," said Ernie Christensen, a retired rear admiral and former Vietnam fighter pilot who commanded the Navy's Top Gun fighter school for a time in the 1980s.

The two Navy pilots lived at the condominium with another Navy pilot who was out of town at the time. Friends and family members say they were not aware of any problems in the household, investigators said.

Military officials have been assisting the investigation but would provide no details on the two pilots or the training or psychological tests they had been undergoing, saying it was too early to do so in the probe.

Authorities were awaiting toxicology results to see if drugs or alcohol might have played a role.

Reeves moved in to the condo a few months ago, Fraser said.

The two Navy pilots and Karen Reis went out to a nightclub on New Year's Eve with another unidentified friend, Fraser said. At the club, they met Saturley and returned to Coronado. When the gunshots rang out, the unidentified friend was talking to David Reis outside the condo, Fraser said. Reis rushed inside and the friend stayed outside and called 911.

David Reis' body was found near the entryway, Fraser said. The other three were found on the third floor of the condo, including two in the bedroom and one on a landing. Investigators seized four guns; none appeared to be a military firearm, Fraser said.

Saturley attended the University of Maryland, earning a bachelor's degree in economics, before studying for a master's at MIT's Sloan School of Management, according to U-T San Diego. He has a 5-year-old daughter and had filed for divorce from his wife of nearly six years just three days before his death, U-T San Diego reported.

The Reis siblings were close friends, their parents say. His sister, Karen, 24, graduated from the University of California, San Diego in 2009, and coached volleyball twice a week to children 12 and younger.

Genuine Volleyball Club's website says she was completing course work toward becoming an occupational therapist.

"David and Karen were good people, from a good family, and doing all that they could to spread that goodness to all who had the fortune to come into contact with them," the family said in a statement Wednesday.

They asked the media to respect their privacy at this time and not to contact them. The siblings are expected to be buried together.

Karen's absence will be greatly felt by those who came in contact with the "selfless young woman" who loved to play sports and sing in her car. David was Karen's "knight in shining armor," the family said.

"We will miss David tremendously, but take solace knowing that he is now forever flying in flawless formation across eternity, with Karen on his wing," the family said.

Marine Lt. Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the fighter-jet training squadron which the two pilots were a part of at Miramar, urged people to pray for the families of both pilots.

"Our condolences go out to the families, friends, fellow service members and Coronado community during this time of mourning," Brodie said.

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