SOMERVILLE, NJ - A threat to call the police may have preceded the murder of Heidi and Frederick Erickson by John Reno, according to findings released by the Somerset Prosecutor's office on Thursday.
Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey D. Soriano, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of County Detectives Timothy Fitzgerald and Warren Township Chief of Police William Keane announced the results of the investigation relating to the events surrounding the double homicide and the suicide, which occurred at 232 Mt. Horeb Road on Aug. 15, 2015.
Evidence indicates that Reno and Heidi were involved in an argument during the evening hours of Aug. 15, inside of the residence that they shared. At some point during the course of the argument, Heidi indicated to Reno that she was going to call the police. Neither the Warren Township Police Department nor Somerset County Communications Center received such a call.
Soriano stated that detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit, the Crime Scene Investigations and Forensics Unit, and the Warren Township Police Department have since concluded their investigation of the deaths of Heidi, 45, and her brother Frederick Erickson, Jr., 55, both killed by Reno, 48, who, in turn, committed suicide.
Components of the investigation included most notably, but are not limited to, statements from the family and friends of the decedents, police audio recordings, social media and text message posts by Reno, as well as other material that was recovered by Crime Scene Investigators inside the residence, and the State Medical Examiner’s post mortem examinations.
Police said that an exact timeline for events occurring on Saturday cannot be constructed. However, Reno posted the following on a social media site at 10:32 p.m. on Saturday: “I so sorry!!!!!!!!!!!”
Reno also placed calls to family members indicating what he had done, as well as his desire and willingness to engage responding law enforcement officers. Reno told one family member, “I’m going to kill a bunch of pigs.”
He then waited at the residence, armed with a weapon, subsequently identified as a GPI SLR15, 5.56mm assault rifle equipped with a detachable box magazine, adjustable stock, pistol grip, bayonet lug, an attached bipod and optical scope.
Frederick arrived at the Mt. Horeb Road residence on Sunday afternoon at approximately 12:45 p.m. As he exited his vehicle and walked up the driveway toward the dwelling, Frederick was met with gunfire. Reno fired upon Frederick from an elevated position on the porch of his residence. Reno fired a total of 18 rounds from that position, ultimately striking Frederick numerous times causing fatal wounds.
At 1:16 p.m. on Sunday, Warren Township Police Dispatch received a phone call from an individual who relayed the content of information received as a result of phone conversations with Reno, which included the caller’s understanding that Reno was involved in a shootout with police at the Mt. Horeb Road residence. Although this information was incorrect, at the time it was received—1:21 p.m., two Warren Township police units were dispatched to conduct a welfare check on Reno at that residence.
The two responding officers, a sergeant and a patrolman, arrived on location at 1:23 p.m. Upon exiting their marked patrol vehicles, both uniformed officers were met with a barrage of gunfire. At 1:24 p.m., officers radioed that there were shots fired and requested the activation and response of the Somerset County SWAT Team.
Prosecutor Soriano states that Reno fired upon the responding officers from a position of concealment inside of the kitchen area of the residence. One round narrowly missed the Sergeant’s head. That round or perhaps another travelled several hundred yards across the street, through an empty parking lot and lodged in an unoccupied professional office building. The officers took cover behind a motor vehicle and a tree. In all, Reno fired twenty rounds at the officers from his position in the kitchen.
In response to requests for assistance, additional police units responded to the scene. Officers from Warren, Green Brook, Watchung, Bernards, and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office were among the first to provide assistance. With vital assistance and cover from those officers, the Warren Township police officers were able to move from their position of cover to a position of safety.
Soriano stated that as Reno was firing upon the responding officers, his weapon began to experience mechanical malfunctions. As he attempted to clear those malfunctions, numerous live rounds fell onto the ground. A total of four live rounds were recovered outside of the dwelling near the rear patio. Three live rounds were recovered near the front porch and grass area of the residence. Seven live rounds were recovered on the kitchen floor.
Also recovered in the kitchen was a high-capacity 30-round magazine containing additional live ammunition. Lastly, detectives recovered seven live rounds and one shell casing near the deceased body of Reno, along with the aforementioned assault rifle that contained a large capacity magazine. An additional large capacity magazine also loaded with ammunition was located under his body.
Investigation has determined that as the officers were attempting to establish a perimeter, and while being fired upon, Reno was able to exit the residence and obtain concealment in a depression in the wooded area in the rear of the home.
With the assistance of the mobile video recorders—specifically, the audio recordings captured by same--in responding officers’ patrol cars, detectives were able to create a timeline of gunshots after the initial attack on the two Warren Township officers. At approximately 1:32 p.m., a short burst of rounds was heard.
Officers were unable to identify the location from which they were being fired upon.
Shortly thereafter at 1:33 p.m., a single gunshot was heard. This was the final shot that was heard and detectives believe it to be the shot that Reno used to take his own life.
Soriano stated that the Somerset County SWAT and Crisis Negotiations Team activation occurred at 1:30 p.m. At the time of the activation, it was believed that Reno could very well still have been in the residence. Due to the type of weapon that Reno possessed, a larger than normal perimeter was established, which included the evacuation of nearby residences.
Following standard operating procedures, an attempt to make contact with Reno was initiated. SWAT members subsequently introduced a mechanical robot into the residence, which was followed by SWAT officers’ tactical entry into the residence.
SWAT members assigned to perimeter security collapsed their positions toward the residence. While doing so, they discovered Reno lying in a drainage ditch in a dense wooded area to the rear of the dwelling with a self-inflicted, fatal gunshot wound to the head.
Soriano stated that Reno did not possess a New Jersey Firearms Identification card. Moreover, the weapon that Reno possessed and utilized satisfies the criteria for designating a weapon as an assault firearm and consequently, it was unlawful for him to possess it in New Jersey.
Soriano said he commends the brave work of all law enforcement officers who responded to the incident and stated, “This was clearly an individual who possessed a strong desire, a stated willingness, and a very apparent ability to inflict tremendous harm on people. I believe that I can speak on behalf of all law enforcement officers throughout Somerset County when I say that our hearts go out to the Erickson family for their losses. Without the quick and brave action by the immediate responding officers and those officers who followed, the magnitude of the tragedy could have greatly expanded.”
The following agencies responded and supported Warren Township Police during this incident:
- Bernards Township Police Department
- Bernardsville Borough Police Department
- Hillsborough Township Rescue Squad
- Long Hill Township Police Department
- Martinsville Rescue Squad
- Mt. Bethel Fire Department
- New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit (on standby)
- New Jersey State Police ROIC (Regional Operations Intelligence Unit)
- Peapack-Gladstone Police Department
- Somerset County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team)
- Somerset County Communications and Command Mobile Unit
- Somerset County EMS
- Somerset County EMS Coordinator
- Members of the Somerset County Police Emergency Response Plan (Eastern Region) consisting of: North Plainfield Borough Police Department, Watchung Borough Police Department, Green Brook Township Police Department and Berkeley Heights Township Police Department
- Somerset County Sheriff’s Office
- Somerset County Tactical Emergency Medical Services Team
- Somerville Rescue Squad
- Warren Township Volunteer Fire Department
- Warren Township Office of Emergency Management
- Warren Township Police K-9 Unit
- Warren Township Rescue Squad