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Suspect charged with murder, attempted murder in deadly Rockford rampage

Bella Rosado, right, and Delanie Palmer, friends of stabbing victim Jenna Newcomb, hug during a vigil Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Rockford, Ill., for the victims of Wednesday's stabbings. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune via AP)

CHICAGO (AP) — A 22-year-old man has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder in a frenzied stabbing and beating rampage that left four people dead in a matter of minutes in a northern Illinois city, authorities said Thursday.

Christian Soto is also charged with seven counts of attempted murder and home invasion with a dangerous weapon following the attacks in Rockford on Wednesday. Seven people were injured.

Court and jail records show Soto appeared in court briefly Thursday afternoon and remains held without bond. He is next due in court Tuesday when a judge will determine if he stays in jail pending trial.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, who was clearly shaken and struggled to hold back tears during a news conference Thursday, listed the victims as 63-year-old Romona Schupbach; 23-year-old Jacob Schupbach; 49-year-old Jay Larson; and 15-year-old Jenna Newcomb.

Three people remained hospitalized Thursday, officials said. The other four were treated and released, Rockford Police Chief Carla Redd said.

Authorities have released little information about Soto, who was arrested Wednesday. A woman who identified herself as Soto's sister declined to comment to The Associated Press.

Redd said Soto acted alone and that police do not know his motive for the attacks.

She said Soto and Jacob Schupbach had grown up together. Soto told police that the two were smoking marijuana at Schupbach's home before the attack, Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley said.

“Soto said that he believes that drugs provided to him by Jacob were laced with an unknown narcotic,” Hanley said. “Soto said he became paranoid after the drug usage. He said he retrieved a knife from the kitchen ... and proceeded to stab” his friend and his friend’s mother to death.

Hanley provided details of the deadly attacks that quickly unfolded in a neighborhood of ranch-style homes soon after 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Redd said less than 20 minutes passed between the initial 911 call and Soto's arrest.

Rockford police responded first to a home on Holmes Street, where they found the bodies of Jacob Schupbach and his mother, Romona.

Hanley said witnesses saw Jacob Schupbach being chased across the street, and that the attacker hit or stabbed him as he lay on the ground. They said the attacker then drove a pickup truck over Schupbach, who was able to make it inside the home. Witnesses said the attacker followed him but left soon after and drove away, Hanley said.

Hanley said officers next found Larson alive in a front yard on nearby Winnetka Drive, but he had been stabbed multiple times and died soon after in a hospital.

Ruth Mendonça, inspector-in-charge of the Chicago office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, told reporters that Larson had been a mail carrier in the area for 25 years.

A witness said he heard a commotion and saw a man beating Larson on the grass near his home, Hanley said. The witness dialed 911 as the attacker walked toward his locked front door. The attacker retrieved a knife from a black pickup and stabbed Larson before driving over him twice and running away.

Soto told police that he recalled “taking out the mailman,” Hanley said.

Around that time, police began receiving 911 calls about an attack on nearby Cleveland Avenue.

A woman and her adult son and daughter told officers that a man armed with a knife forced his way into their home. The man stabbed the mother near her left eye as she opened the door to let their dog out, Hanley said. Her children fought with Soto and also were wounded. The son told police that the attacker ran away after he struck him with a syrup bottle.

Residents then flagged down first responders about another attack on the same street, Hanley said.

Jenna Newcomb and a friend were watching a movie in her basement and Jenna's sister was upstairs when Soto entered their house through an unlocked door. Hanley said one of the girls later told police Soto “was covered in blood. He beat all three teens with a baseball bat and Jenna died in the attack. The girls who survived are 14 and 15.

Jenna's mother said she died trying to protect her sister and friend from further harm, according to McNamara.

Soto then broke a window to get into a home close by on Florence Street. A woman fled the home and Soto chased her into the yard and stabbed her. Keith Fahreny, who was driving by, saw the attack and stopped to intervene, Hanley said.

Soto attacked Fahreny and tried to steal his vehicle, but Fahreny dragged him from the car. Soto once again fled on foot, but he was soon arrested by a sheriff’s deputy.

The woman and Fahreny both survived the attack.

Resident Vanessa Hy told WREX-TV in Rockford that she witnessed the arrest.

“We heard police run up on both sides of the house screaming, ‘Stop! Get down!’” Hy told the TV station. “Then they ran into the backyard and after a few minutes we saw them bringing the suspect down the driveway in handcuffs and he was very bloody.”

Clearly distraught, McNamara spoke of how the slayings have disrupted his community.

“Right now, the focus is on these individuals who have lost their lives this week,” he added. “Their families, making sure they’re getting healing that they need.”

“You might hear grief and sadness from me," the mayor said. "I’m also really pissed off.”

Rockford, home to about 150,000 people, is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Chicago. Its economy was decimated by industrial change in the 1980s and now largely depends on manufacturing and healthcare.

Some residents bristle at the mention of a 2013 Forbes article classifying it as one of the country’s “most miserable cities,” that pointedly noted Rockford’s double-digit unemployment rate. Forbes and other media outlets have been more complimentary in recent years, noting the city's affordable cost of living and efforts to support local restaurants and entertainment venues.

But Rockford's police force, like many across the U.S., has reported increases in violent crime since the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s violent crimes totals dropped by about 19%, according to the department’s annual report, but there were 20 murders compared to 15 in 2022.

The stabbings Wednesday came just days after a teenage employee was stabbed and killed inside a Walmart in the city. A suspect in that killing has been arrested.

Clergy from different faiths gave prayers Thursday afternoon at a vigil for those slain and wounded.

“I came today because I didn’t want to grieve alone,” said the Rev. Caleb Hong, senior pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Rockford. “And I was hurting, and my guess is many of you are hurting or you’re scared, or you’re wondering why does this happen?”

“We’re all feeling the same way. We’re all hurting,” he said.


Callahan reported from Indianapolis and Williams reported from Detroit. Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.

Kathleen Foody, Rick Callahan And Corey Williams, The Associated Press

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