By Tom Dolan
ELKHART -- A 47-year-old man who was reportedly to testify at a Cass County criminal trial was shot in the face as he stood in the kitchen of a Waurika Street home Monday night.
Paramedics took Joseph H. Richey Jr. from 1325 Waurika St. to Elkhart General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 10:45 p.m. An autopsy conducted Tuesday afternoon determined the cause of death was gunshot wounds to the head and neck, said Elkhart County Coroner Jeff Landrum.
According to sources in Indiana and Michigan, Richey was to testify at a criminal trial in Cass County later this month. The prosecutor's office had little to say about the man.
"The (Cass County Prosecutor's) office will not be releasing any information whatsoever related to the homicide that Elkhart's handling," a spokeswoman said.
In a short press release Tuesday afternoon, the Cass County Sheriff's Department reported that Richey, a former Vandalia resident, had been used as a witness in prior Cass County court cases. The sheriff's department provided information on those trials to Elkhart police, according to the statement.
Sgt. Brett Coppins, public information officer for the Elkhart Police Department, said no arrest had been made as of Tuesday, but investigators were making progress and conducting interviews.
"They don't believe this was a random shooting. They don't believe this happened in the heat of the moment or anything along those lines," he said.
Richey was standing in the kitchen and it appeared the shots were fired from outside the home, police said.
Coppins said police don't believe Richey had resided for very long at the Waurika Street home owned by the housing authority. Richey formerly lived in Cass County.
Neighbors stood along Waurika Street Tuesday morning as investigators and Mike Christofeno, chief deputy prosecutor for Elkhart County, walked around the crime scene. What some residents thought were fireworks Monday night turned out to be gunfire. By Tuesday morning, their concern for the victim turned to fear for their families.
Rosie Holloway lives down the block with her four children and a grandchild. Not long before Richey was shot, Holloway went to get her children who were playing across the street from 1325 Waurika.
"One of the kids could have caught that bullet. A bullet doesn't have eyes," she said.
Holloway comforted Katrenia Gary who cried as she looked at the single-story home in which Richey was shot.
"It's too close to home. We live right there," Gary said gesturing toward her own house.
Both women said the area of public housing just east of South Nappanee Street and south of the St. Joseph River is normally very quiet and safe. Neither felt safe Tuesday.
"When it happened last night, I thought, 'My God! I should get in the house, close the door, close the door, and close the windows ... lock them all,'" Holloway said. "I really want to move. Now."
"I've gotta go somewhere. I can't handle this," Gary said. "They never bothered nobody. It's so sad."
Coppins said police were first called to Waurika on a report of gunshots fired around 10:10 p.m.
"We received numerous calls that followed the shots fired call. They found the victim inside on the floor," he said.
A woman held Richey as he lay on the kitchen floor, police said. Officers tried to help until paramedics took the man to the hospital.
Coppins said it took some time for authorities to find Richey's family in Michigan. He expected family and friends will be coming to Elkhart for interviews with detectives working the homicide.
"I can't comment on suspects. I can't comment on evidence," he said.
Monday's shooting was the second homicide in a couple days for Elkhart police. Saturday morning, police found Vusani "Cy'' Mankhwala, 17, had been stabbed to death just around the corner from his home.
Detectives are continuing their investigation into that case. No arrest has been made.
"It appears that both these cases are unrelated," Coppins said Tuesday.
Anyone with information on the case is asked to call detectives Steve Rezutko or Todd Thayer at 295-7076 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 342-STOP.
Contact Tom Dolan at firstname.lastname@example.org.