By Patty Booth O’Neill
Long Branch — A double homicide on Lippincott Avenue has left the city shocked and grieving, trying to come to grips with the senseless slaying of two innocent people.
Joan Colbert, 62, and Veronica Roach, her 10-year-old foster daughter, who she took in when she was a baby, were discovered in their first floor-apartment on Friday afternoon, although the murders are suspected to have occurred days before.
On Friday evening, Lippincott Avenue was sectioned off by yellow crime tape while police ordered everyone who lived inside the tape to remain in their homes. Police went from house to house asking if anyone had heard or seen anything. No one had.
Friends, family and neighbors amassed on the corner of Lippincott Avenue and Halburton Place waiting for information about what was found inside the home. Many paced impatiently back and forth, most sat in disbelief on the curb.
‘Who killed my daughter. I want to know what happened to my daughter!” cried Jasmine Roach as she ran screaming down Lippincott towards police. Friends called out, stopping her at the tape to calm and comfort her, offering any information they knew at that time.
Sunday, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office announced that an autopsy had confirmed the deaths were a result of homicide.
On Sunday night a candlelight vigil was held on Lippincott Ave. and on Monday the sidewalk leading to the house was lined with over 50 candles. The front porch was adorned with flowers, balloons and stuffed animals left by mourners, some bowing their head in a silent prayer.
“This is a very sad event,” said Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider. “I knew Joan very well. I knew her for years.”
Chae Chong, the live-in landlord of the house next door, said he knew Colbert and was very sorry for what happened. “She was a very good lady,” he said. He also said it was a very nice neighborhood and he wasn’t afraid to live there.
Everyone who spoke about Colbert agreed she was a wonderful person. Friends say that she was always ready to offer her assistance when someone was in need. She volunteered and always had a smile on her face.
“She was the kindest black woman in Long Branch,” said another friend.
“The last time I saw Joan was at Jean Hastings’ funeral,” said one person. “I can’t believe someone would kill her or her ten-year-old daughter. She was such a good person. Always happy.”
“She was a very nice person,” Schneider said. “No one ever had a harsh word to say about her. When you find out someone you know is murdered it takes your breath away.”
On Tuesday afternoon, standing on the sidewalk staring at the adorned, empty, house were Pearl Bell and her daughter Elizabeth, from Long Branch. “I’ve known Joan since I was a little girl,” Elizabeth said. “This is so sad. I don’t know who would want to hurt her. And who would kill a little girl?”
Superintendent of Long Branch Schools Michael Salvatore sent a letter out to parents expressing his sympathy.
“It is with a heavy heart that I write this message to inform you that on the evening of Friday, August 1, 2014 we learned of a tragic event resulting in the death of one of our elementary school students and her guardian,” the letter read.
He wrote that there were crisis interventionists at each summer site ready to engage children and families.
“Let’s continue to join together to guide our children in the right direction.”
“My grandchild was in the same class as Veronica. The school nurse called to see if she was alright,” said Pearl Bell, visibly shaken.
“I don’t know why someone would do this. When Joan first moved to Lippincott Avenue she called me up so happy, and said, ‘Pearl, I finally found my home. I’m so happy here.”’
As of press time, no funeral arrangements had been finalized. When the information is available, The Link will post it online at its website, www.thelinknews.net.
Donations to assist the victims’ families are being collected at Pierce Liquor, 189 Broadway.
Rumors run rampant
On Monday morning Charles Webster, Public Information Officer for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office held a press conference in front of the victim’s home to answer questions from the media. He didn’t offer much more than what was already officially reported other than, “There’s no cause for anyone else to be concerned.”
Some of the media present took that to mean officials had someone in mind, and were already going after a certain person or had a suspect in custody.
Most of the questions put forth to Webster were answered with, “I can’t answer that at this time.”
“Do you have someone in custody?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“Are you looking into someone of interest?”
“I can’t answer that at this time.”
“Do you have any leads?”
“We are always looking for leads.”
The next day while speaking to Webster on the phone about numerous horrific rumors flying around town, he still had nothing to add and couldn’t confirm whether any or none of them were true.
One rumor was about a suspect being brought in, questioned and then released. “I’m really not in on the particulars of the investigation. I can only report what I’m told,” Webster said.
The community and those who knew the victims were not too happy with being told, “They have no reason to be concerned.”
“Many people’s reaction was WTF,” Webster was told. “They feel like that’s a very casual response.”
He then said that the main reason the Prosecutor’s Office said that no one should be concerned was because they didn’t want people to think a serial killer was on the loose. “We believe this is a very specific case.”
Webster said his office is urging anyone in the community with any kind of information at all to call the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office tip line at 732-577-8700 or, to remain anonymous, call 800-671-4400.
At Long Branch’s “National Night Out,” Mayor Adam Schneider, members of the council, and police looked on as Ronald Cox, head of United Neighbors Inc., and First Assistant Prosecutor Marc LeMieux spoke openly to the hundreds of people present at National Night Out. “This is not going to tear this community apart,” Cox said. “We are neighbors looking out for neighbors. We are a community and we will not be split up. Together as a community we can solve this.”
Cox went on to tell the people that if they have any information please call Crime Stoppers.
After Cox, LeMieux spoke to the crowd, also pleading with them to call Crime Stoppers with any information they might have.
“I stand before you to ask you for your help,” he told the gathering members of the community. “Crime Stoppers is absolutely, one hundred percent anonymous. There is no caller ID, no call backs, no one will ask your name and no one will show up at your doorstep. There is up to a $5,000 reward for information leading up to an arrest,” he said.
Anyone who wishes to remain anonymous can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-671-4400, by texting “MONMOUTH” and the tip to 274637 or emailing a tip on the website at www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com.
Authorities are asking anyone with information to contact prosecutor’s office Detective Richard Chapman at 732-577-8700 or Long Branch police Detective Ross Zotti at 732-222-1000.
“Our law enforcement have been working around the clock, and we will continue to do so until we find who did this,” LeMieux said.