Ciancia neighbors in South Jersey: ‘Did this really happen?’

Courier Post – by Wade Malcolm, William H. McMichael, and Matthew Albright

Salesianum School strives to mold young men “in the example of the gentleman saint, St. Francis de Sales,” with boys going to class looking studious in a button-down shirt, tie and khakis.

Between periods, though, the halls of Salesianum School become a more boisterous environment. Students laugh, joke and relax from the rigors of the prestigious private school curriculum.

It always felt like a brotherhood, remembered Silver Evans, welcoming and inclusive.

But whenever Evans and others noticed Paul A. Ciancia – the rare occasions that they did notice him at all – he seemed uninterested in engaging with anyone. He never seemed to say anything either.

Ciancia walked from one class directly to the next, past the other students lingering around lockers, recalled Evans, Ciancia’s former classmate.

“I don’t really mean this in an insulting way, but he was one of those kids who just kind of floated around in the background,” said Alex Osborne, who graduated with Ciancia in 2008.

Authorities say that on Friday, the 23-year-old unemployed mechanic who once was the quiet boy in those high school hallways walked unnoticed into an airport on the other side of the country.

He carried a duffel bag containing an assault rifle and a rambling note describing government conspiracies and his desire to kill at least one Transportation Security Administration officer.

He opened fire at Los Angeles Airport with an AR-15, killing a TSA agent and wounding four others. Airport police returned fire – hitting him in the leg and head – and tackled him to the ground, critically injuring the Pennsville, N.J., native.

Various reports said that someone dropped Ciancia off at the airport, and that he told a former roommate he planned to go back home to work at his father’s auto body business and resolve some family issues. Instead, authorities told The Associated Press that Ciancia burst into the terminal determined to kill any TSA agent he could find.

“Black, white, yellow, brown, I don’t discriminate,” the duffel-bag note read, according to the law enforcement official that spoke to the Associated Press. The note included mentions of “fiat currency” and the New World Order, beliefs that the global economy is on the verge of collapse and will lead to the rise of a worldwide totalitarian government.

Federal prosecutors charged Ciancia with murder Saturday, calling his actions premeditated. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

The FBI, which has the lead on the investigation, has interviewed “quite a few” Salesianum faculty members, School President Brendan Kennealey said Saturday night.

“I think what they were trying to do – this is my speculation – was basically to learn kind of who his friends were, a little bit more about his profile, just see if teachers or anyone remembered friends that he might have had so that they might potentially reach out to those people to learn more,” Kennealey said.

Looking for motive

Family members warned law enforcement Friday that Ciancia might be suicidal, but investigators have not said what triggered him to go on a shooting rampage instead of returning to New Jersey.

Ciancia grew up in a wooded neighborhood on the other side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. On Saturday, Pennsville, N.J., residents expressed sympathy for Ciancia’s family, mixed with disgust over the shooting.

“There was something obviously wrong with him,” said Dawn Troupe, a 13-year Pennsville resident. “He was calling out for help to somebody. If he survives, hopefully he’ll get the help that he needs.

“It’s a sad situation.”

Ciancia’s father, also named Paul, is well known in the community as owner of Salem County Collision. He sponsors little league teams and is a longtime associate member of the local Fraternal Order of Police. He lives in a home at the end of a long lane not far from his business.

With police barricading the end of the driveway, the Ciancia family has remained inside the home since Friday as hordes of reporters and mobile TV vans descended on the neighborhood and at least one helicopter hovered overhead.

Media staked out the neighborhood Friday, waiting for any update

Pennsville police Chief Allen Cummings came down the driveway early in the evening to promise a press conference. But he later reappeared to say the FBI would handle the case, and he would not hold a press conference.

“Everybody’s fine up there,” Cummings said when asked how the family was holding up. “Obviously, we’re going to keep looking into this as much as we can – keep the family safe, secure.”

Cummings said he’s known the family for a long time and summed them up with two words: “Good people.”

On Friday, Cummings said Ciancia had texted his younger brother a message threatening suicide, leading their father to seek police assistance locating him. The Pennsville chief called Los Angeles police, which sent a patrol car to Ciancia’s apartment.

“Basically, there were two roommates there,” the Pennsville chief said he was told. “They said, ‘We saw him yesterday and he was fine.’ ”

One resident defended the family members, saying they are the wrong place to look for clues about Ciancia’s alleged actions.

“It’s not the family,” said Angela Livesay, of Pennsville. “All people are born with choices. And you choose to live your life the right way, or you choose to do something crazy.”

Orlando Pagan lives across the street from the Ciancia home, a large estate that can’t be seen from East Pittsfield Street. He said he occasionally waved at Ciancia as he pulled out of his driveway.

“I’m still trying to process it,” said Pagan. “Good neighbors. No problems. I’m still shocked by it.”

As much as Pagan and others in Pennsville had positive impressions of the family, they had little recollection of Paul Ciancia, the eldest son who moved to Los Angeles about a year ago. Most doubted whether they had ever met him.

Like his father Orlando, Joshua Pagan, 17, said he’d seen the young man “a few times,” but didn’t notice anything unusual in his behavior.

“I did not know him personally,” Joshua Pagan said. “From what I’ve seen and heard, he was just a normal person – just an everyday guy. Right now I am still trying to process this. Did this really happen? Did they get the wrong guy? Because if they told me they got the wrong guy, it would make a lot more sense to me.”

Ciancia’s mother, Susan Taylor Ciancia, died four years ago at 48. She had been a Catholic school teacher in nearby Paulsboro, N.J., according to an obituary from a local funeral home.

“In the hometown here, everyone’s sympathizing with the family of the shooter,” said Nancy Sherman, of Pennsville, who added that she does not know the family. “And I get a little annoyed with that, because very little is said about the victim who was killed and his family. And I get a little sad about that. But there’s a lot of sympathy in this town for the shooter.”

‘Kept to himself’

The Rev. James J. Greenfield, provincial of the Oblates’ Wilmington-Philadelphia (the religious order affiliated with founding of Salesianum that still maintains an association), said he learned late Friday night that the accused shooter was an alumnus of the high school. Like many, he said he is still processing the news and thinking about what the community might do to help families who are hurting – including those injured and killed in Los Angeles and the Ciancia family.

Speaking on behalf of the Oblates, Greenfield said they will be praying and are available to anyone who needs help coping.

“When it happens so close to home, from a school we all know, a graduate of that school, it just gives us more unanswered questions,” Greenfield said.

Two former classmates of Ciancia’s deemed the suspected shooter as a loner, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“In four years, I never heard a word out of his mouth,” said David Hamilton, who graduated with Ciancia and is now an editorial assistant at a publishing firm in Philadelphia. “He kept to himself and ate lunch alone a lot. I really don’t remember any one person who was close to him.”

Another classmate, Jeff Skidmore, told the Times that Ciancia wore black on “dress down” days when they were not required to wear their uniforms.

“He was definitely awkward,” Skidmore said. “He was always hanging his head and just shuffling along.”

Other classmates at Salesianum had faint and conflicting memories of Ciancia.

Some recall him being bullied. Others remembered no such thing, that he bothered no one and no one bothered him. Most thought of him as a band kid, either in the marching or jazz band playing the tuba. Or perhaps it was the French horn.

Osborne, the 2008 grad, said he saw chatter Friday on Facebook from former classmates connecting the airport shooting to a Salesianum grad. When he looked up Ciancia’s photo on the Internet, he barely felt like he recognized him at first.

“I don’t know who he was friends with,” Osborne said. “I assume everyone has some friends or at least one friend. With him, I just don’t who they are or who they would be.”

2 thoughts on “Ciancia neighbors in South Jersey: ‘Did this really happen?’

  1. Would that be the dummy’s neighbors……….

    “In four years, I never heard a word out of his mouth,” said David Hamilton,…….
    ……..he seemed uninterested in engaging with anyone. He never seemed to say anything either.”

    ……….or the crisis actor’s?

    “……..he was one of those kids who just kind of floated around in the background,…….”

    One other question.

    Is his father involved in the same banking scandal (the name escapes me at the moment) that James Holmes dad is tied up with?

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