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Gunman shoots elderly Elkton couple in Delaware veterans cemetery

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Delaware State Police identify cemetery shooter

This is a 2009 file photo of Sheldon C. Francis, 29, from Middletown, Del. Francis is suspected of gunning down an elderly Elkton couple Friday morning while the man, 86, and his wife, 85, were visiting Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear, Del. After a six-hour manhunt, police found Francis dead from a gunshot wound in a wooded area near the cemetery.

BEAR, Del. – An 86-year-old Elkton man died from his gunshot wounds in an area hospital on Saturday - a day after a gunman opened fire on him and his 85-year-old wife in a Delaware veterans cemetery near Chesapeake City, killing her at the scene, Delaware State Police officials reported Sunday morning.

Also on Sunday morning, DSP officials released the name of the gunman, identifying him as Sheldon C. Francis, 29, of Middletown, Del.

Francis died from an apparent gunshot wound near the scene of the shootings, but, as of Sunday, investigators had not determined if that fatal wound was self-inflicted or if it was one he had suffered during an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers near that cemetery, some two hours after he had opened fire on the elderly Elkton couple, police reported.

Investigators still had not released the names of the elderly Elkton couple killed by Francis, as of Sunday.

The elderly Elkton couple was shot on Friday morning while visiting Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery, spurring a manhunt that ended some six hours later when law enforcement officers found the shooter - now identified as Francis - dead in a wooded area close to that graveyard, DSP officials reported.

The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. Her critically-wounded husband was taken to an area hospital, where he succumbed to his wound or wounds on Saturday, police added.

A motive for the shootings had not been released, as the investigation continued on Sunday. DSP officials also had not released information regarding why the elderly Elkton couple was at that veterans cemetery and how the shootings unfolded.

DSP troopers responded to the veterans cemetery in the 2400 block of Chesapeake City Road at approximately 10:15 a.m. Friday, after receiving a “shots fired” complaint, agency officials reported.

After arriving, DSP troopers found the fatally-wounded Elkton woman and her critically wounded husband on the cemetery grounds, police said. The gunman, however, apparently had fled from the scene, police added.

At approximately 11:08 a.m., almost one hour after the shootings had occurred, law enforcement officers at the scene saw a man running into a wooded area between the cemetery and Brennan Boulevard, in the Brennan Estates development, prompting troopers to secure that area, according to DSP officials.

Some residents close to the scene were evacuated from their homes, because the gunman remained on the loose, and others who live in the general area were ordered to shelter in place inside their dwellings, police reported. Delaware and Cecil County law enforcement officers closed several roads near the cemetery.

Then at approximately 12:08 p.m., some two hours after the shootings had occurred, an exchange of gunfire took place between the gunman, who was in a wooded area near Brennan Boulevard, and police officers in and near the cemetery, according to DSP officials, who further reported that law enforcement officers were not wounded or injured during the volley of shots.

Finally, at approximately 4 p.m., about six hours after the elderly Elkton couple had been shot, law enforcement officers were able to enter the wooded area near the cemetery - where they found the dead gunman, now identified as Francis, police reported.

"It is undetermined at this time if the (gunman's) gunshot wound was self-inflicted or as a result of the earlier exchange of gunfire," a DSP spokesperson said, adding, "The Delaware Division of Forensic Science will perform autopsies to determine the cause and manner of the deaths."

After the gunman was found dead, DSP officials declared that the scene was secure and that there was no longer a threat to public safety, police said. As a result, police added, the evacuees were permitted to return to their homes and the nearby roads were reopened.

"Based on the nature of the incident, a large police presence remained in the area as part of the ongoing investigation," the DSP spokesperson noted.

The shootings at that Delaware veterans cemetery and the manhunt that followed impacted Cecil County law enforcement officers and residents who live in a broad area where the incident occurred.

Cecil County law enforcement officers stationed themselves at various locations in and around Chesapeake City, to prevent motorists from driving on certain roads that lead to the cemetery where the shootings occurred and to areas in Bear that were marked by heavy police activity, Lt. Michael Holmes, a Cecil County Sheriff's Office spokesman, told the Cecil Whig.

“We have several units at various spots near the (Maryland/Delaware) state line. We have blocked some roads leading into Delaware, to stop motorists from entering into Delaware from Cecil County,” Holmes said on Friday morning, listing Biddle Street and Woods Road as two of the Chesapeake City roads that police shut down during the operation.

CCSO Chief Deputy Gerald Widdoes reported early Friday afternoon that the gunman had been last seen on foot in a wooded area near Brennan Estates, which, on the Delaware side of the state line, is about a mile and a half east of Chesapeake City and is located behind the cemetery where the shootings occurred.

As a result, Cecil County residents in the general area of the police activity were notified through a “reverse 911” call to “shelter in place” inside their homes until the situation was resolved, according to Widdoes. The “reverse 911” call covered an area west of Brennan Estates, north to Frenchtown Road and south to the Chesapeake City Canal Bridge in Chesapeake City, he outlined.

CCSO officials lifted that "shelter in place" order shortly after Delaware law enforcement officers found the dead gunman, Widdoes told the Cecil Whig at 5:50 p.m. Friday.

While DSP served as the primary investigating department during Friday's operation, it received assistance in manpower and resources from numerous federal, state and local agencies, including the ATF, FBI, U.S. Marshals, DNREC, New Castle County Police Department, Wilmington Police Department, Dover Police Department, Newark Police Department, N.C.C. EMS and DELDOT, police reported.

As of Saturday, the investigation by the Delaware State Police Homicide Unit was described by DSP officials as "active and ongoing."

Anyone with information that might help in this investigation is asked to call DSP Det. M. Ryde at 302-698-8557. Information also may be provided by calling Delaware Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333 or via the internet at http://www.delaware.crimestoppersweb.com

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