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Family Gathered for Grandson’s Birthday, Then Tragedy

The 5-year-old boy decided to spend the night with his grandparents. Police say his uncle shot everyone to death that night.

Investigators look for bodies in the charred ruins of a home on 51st Avenue, after a man allegedly shot three family members and set the house on fire before taking his own life.
Investigators look for bodies in the charred ruins of a home on 51st Avenue, after a man allegedly shot three family members and set the house on fire before taking his own life.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said three Oak Lawn family members whose bodies were found in a charred ranch home early Wednesday morning died of gunshot wounds.

John Conta Sr. suffered multiple gunshot wounds when Oak Lawn firefighters pulled his body from the hallway of his burning ranch home in the 9800 block of South 51st Avenue. The medical examiner’s office did not provide his exact age, but said he was in his 60s.

Conta Sr.’s wife, Janice, 68, and the couple’s grandson, Matthew Meier, 5, were both shot in the head. Their bodies were not discovered until late afternoon Wednesday after investigators spent hours combing through the destroyed home's fire debris and found them in the basement.

Family members gathered in the home Tuesday evening to celebrate Matthew’s fifth birthday. His mother left later in the evening and Matthew stayed behind to spend the night at his grandparents’, Oak Lawn Police Division Chief Michael Kaufmann said.

John Conta Jr. is believed to have gunned down his family sometime after the boy's mother left and then set the house ablaze with gasoline.

Before Wednesday morning, police never had cause to visit the Conta home on 51st Avenue, described by neighbors as meticulously maintained by the elder Conta.

Conta Jr. taught overseas and spent time in Russia as a potato farmer, and was reportedly living at his parents' house.

“The family said he had changed a bit when he returned from overseas,” Kaufmann said, “but not enough to bring us to a conclusion as to his mindset.”

He took his own life in the home’s garage in front of an off-duty, Oak Lawn deputy fire chief who arrived on the scene to offer his assistance.

Police said when the deputy fire chief went to open a car door parked in the garage, the younger Conta shot himself in the face with a shotgun. The medical examiner ruled Conta Jr.’s death a suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The house fire burned fiercely for several hours before firefighters were able to knock down the blaze. Both the home’s roof and first floor collapsed into the basement by the time the fire was extinguished.

“The state fire marshal said the fire was started in the basement,” Kaufmann said. “A gas can was recovered in the area of the house where the floor did not collapse.”

Kaufmann said a gun locker with various weapons inside was recovered by a demolition crew Thursday morning.

“We believe the father was a hunter and had weapons in a safe,” he said. “[Conta Jr.] may have taken a shotgun and used it on the people inside the house.”


READ PATCH'S COVERAGE OF THE 51ST AVENUE TRAGEDY:


Joe Kocur March 02, 2014 at 04:04 PM
Melissa- great comment! Your cousin is a real family to provide for his family and make ends meet. I don't know where your from but here in illinois you see if you can't provide for your family you sign up for a whole bunch of freebies and relax! God bless your cousin
Dan Crabtree March 02, 2014 at 07:49 PM
In most cases like this they always kill themselves as well...always...No tale is left to tell as to why...I for one beleive it is demon possesion as evil is very real and hardly a day goes by this story does not repeat itself across america
Albert Gazalooch March 02, 2014 at 09:14 PM
Yup... guns kill but it takes a person who wants to kill to make it a murder weapon.
Robin Lanier March 03, 2014 at 10:54 AM
@ Joe Cool: You're overlooking the fact that guns are the most efficient, humane method for hunting. Certainly not perfect, but the farther you move from guns, the more chance you have of striking a blow that's not immediately lethal, and having the animal die a slow, agonizing death of bloodloss, infection, pain, perhaps starvation. And I'd much rather, when possible, get any meat I eat from hunting rather than our current factory farm system. Animals packed in, diseased (within limits set by the FDA of course, but diseased nonetheless), hormones injected in them so that they produce more meat but have stress fractures in their bones from the weight and not being allowed to move, and then corralled into machines that are meant to kill efficiently but too frequently likewise miss that lethal blow, leaving the animals to feel as they're being processed alive at the beginning. Also, medically speaking, although a gun does have a better chance of being lethal, when a gun wound is not, it actually does far less damage than any other weapon: 1. the speed makes for smoother edges and a much smaller point of entry and exit (Granted, this depends on the gun, some are nasty and designed to maximize damage). 2. It's a cleaner wound than anything from a knife or other weapon. I don't know about you, but I don't believe anyone who goes after me with a knife is going to bother to clean the germs off of it. Much less chance of infection with a gun than with a knife. 3. Knives cut and shred, they do a great deal more damage internally, at the site of entry. What might have been a nonlethal bullet wound might become lethal with a knife at the same site. Bats: external and internal trauma--in all honesty I'd rather be dead than deal with the nightmare I've seen with bat based head injuries (and this is just in a couple of nasty baseball accidents I've seen, nothing that was intentional damage). Also, since I know the card is going to get pulled by others anyway, not that it should even matter, but for some reason it does, I'm a liberal. I am in support of certain types of gun control (particularly where mental health is concerned, and where particularly damaging gun types are concerned). But overall, hey, I'm a woman, I live alone. Eventually, when I have time to be TRAINED in correct defensive use, I do plan on acquiring a gun. I am however well aware that without training, it would be more of a liability than an asset to me.
Robin Lanier March 03, 2014 at 10:54 AM
Wow, apparently the comments section here takes out paragraph divisions. Bit behind the times.

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