WILMINGTON, DEL. — The man who randomly gunned down an elderly Elkton couple at a Delaware cemetery in May – while they were visiting their son’s grave – had a “doomsday-like attitude” purportedly triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released by the Delaware Department of Justice.
Sheldon C. Francis, 29, of Middletown, Del., fatally shot Paul C. Marino, 86, and his wife, Lidia, 85, on the grounds of Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear, Del., at approximately 10:15 a.m. on May 8 – before hiding in the nearby woods and later firing at least 78 gunshots at law enforcement officers, striking a DSP armored vehicle, known as a BearCat, numerous times. No officers or other people in that general area were wounded during the incident.
DSP troopers shot and killed Francis during a protracted shootout in which a total of at least 150 rounds were fired.
Although a direct motive for Francis’ deadly shooting of the Marino couple still has not been determined, the DDOJ report sheds light on the gunman’s perceived mental state at the time – based on information provided by his relatives during a comprehensive, multi-month probe that led investigators to conclude the fatal shooting of Francis by DSP troopers was lawfully justified, as were all of the rounds fired by law enforcement officers during the incident.
“WI (Witness 1) is a close family member. W1 reported that Francis was extremely paranoid about contracting COVID since the onset of the pandemic. W1 stated that s/he discovered a phone message from Amazon, Francis’ employer, indicating there were a couple of COVID exposures at the warehouse. Otherwise, on the day s/he last saw Francis, he seemed fine,” according to the DDOJ report.
The report indicates that two other family members of Francis’ were present during that interview with W1 and that they, too, provided information to investigators.
“The family was unable to provide a motive for the shooting in the cemetery, or Francis’ later actions. They described Francis as quiet and non-violent, and were unaware that he owned firearms. The family confirmed that since the onset of the COVID pandemic, Francis has been paranoid, having a ‘doomsday-like’ attitude,” the DDOJ report outlines.
Francis gunned down the Marino couple – who were strangers to him and vice versa – approximately two months after the COVID-19 pandemic reached this region, resulting, at the outset, in gubernatorial stay-at-home orders and the closing of schools, government buildings, restaurants and all other businesses and places deemed non-essential.
DSP troopers methodically advanced to the area from which the shots had been fired at them, after the gunfire had ceased, and they found Francis dead at approximately 4 p.m. May 8 – some four hours after the shootout had occurred and nearly six hours after Francis had gunned down the Marino couple.
“Police discovered Francis deceased inside a makeshift tent he assembled in the woods. Francis was wearing a vest similar to a load-bearing tactical vest. Near his body were numerous shell casings, a semi-automatic handgun, and a semi-automatic rifle. An additional handgun, found during the area search, was determined to be the weapon Francis used to kill the elderly couple. ATF traces of the firearms show all were purchased by Francis,” according to the DDOJ report.
Before and after DSP troopers returned fire, Francis was shooting “in the direction of the police, residential houses, and vehicles,” the report shows.
Law enforcement officers made efforts to warn and clear nearby civilians, none of which were wounded or injured during the incident, according to the DDOJ report that further indicates, “Francis’ gunfire, however, did cause substantial damage to nearby residences.”
“The major concentration of Francis’ shots was on the driver’s side of the armored vehicle. The damage appears to suggest that Francis was trying to ‘stack’ his shots at the windshield, in an effort to break the bulletproof glass. Francis fired at least 78 rounds, with many of the bullets directed at police who were on foot outside of the armored vehicle,” the DDOJ report outlines.
Francis’ onslaught of gunshots pinned down assisting New Castle County Police Department officers in the area, rendering them unable to move safely, which prompted DSP Special Operations Response Team members M/Cpls. Sean O’Leary, David Chorlton, and Ricardo Torres to exit the armored vehicle from the back and return fire, according to the DDOJ report.
“While police were firing in the direction of Francis, into the woods, one of the rounds fired by M/Cpl. Ricardo Torres struck Francis in the head and killed him . . . Cpl. Torres reasonably believed that the use of deadly force upon Francis was immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself, other officers in the vicinity, and civilians nearby. For these reasons, the Department of Justice concludes the use of deadly force by Master Corporal Ricard Torres upon Francis does not constitute a criminal offense under the laws of the State of Delaware,” the DDOJ report summarizes.
Lidia Marino was pronounced dead at the scene of the shootings, police said. Her husband died from his gunshot wound or wounds at Christiana Hospital in Delaware on May 9, a day after the shootings, police added.
The slain couple’s 60-year-old twin sons, Paul Jr. and Ray Marino, both of Elkton, told the Cecil Whig five days later that their parents were fatally shot while visiting the grave of their son, Anthony Marino, who, at age 54, died on March 15, 2017, and that their parents visited Anthony’s grave almost daily.
During the past three years, the Marino couple had visited Anthony’s grave – in the same burial plot where Paul and Lidia Marino are now laid to rest – approximately 1,000 times, they estimated.
“It was like a regimen. Mom and Dad visited my brother’s grave every single day, without fail, unless there was inclement weather. They usually went there in the morning,” Ray said during a May 13 interview.
The sons do not know if their parents were able to pay one last visit to Anthony’s grave before they were fatally shot.
“They were shot halfway between the cemetery entrance and Anthony’s burial plot, so we don’t know if they were coming or going,” Ray said, adding, “He came up behind them, pulled out a handgun and did his thing. He shot our dad in the back of the head and then he shot our mom. We don’t know if he shot our mom first in front of our dad or if he shot our dad first in front of our mom. We don’t even know if they saw him.”