WANAQUE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Investigators were searching for answers late Tuesday after a heartbreaking incident, in which a father took his own life by jumping off a New Jersey overpass and tried to take his two young sons with him.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, police said it was a “miracle” that two little boys survived the fall.
The father was identified by New Jersey State Police Tuesday as John Spincken, 37.
Police said it began at Spincken’s home in Pequannock around 7 p.m. Monday when authorities received a frantic call from Spincken’s wife saying that the couple was quarreling and he was threatening to harm their little boys, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
“The officer spoke with the wife and determined that he had made some threats against the children and they found those threats to be credible right away,” said Pequannock Police Capt. Christopher DePuyt.
Investigators say Spincken took the children, ages 1 and 3, and drove off in a white SUV. Police were soon able to track his sport-utility vehicle by his cellphone’s GPS signal, tracing him to Wanaque in Passaic County.
The vehicle was found parked on the shoulder of the southbound lane of Interstate 287 on an overpass bridge.
Police said Spincken somehow managed to get on the other side of an eight-foot fence, jumping from the bridge with the two children and landing on the forest floor.
“It’s about 100-foot drop,” DePuyt said. “They found all three of the victims within close proximity of each other.”
The fence is there for a reason, neighbors said.
“The bridge that he jumped off of – it’s known for suicide jumpers, and that’s why they put that high fence on it,” said neighbor John Wisniewski. “It didn’t have a fence before. It was just regular concrete.”
It is surmised that Spincken climbed onto the roof of his vehicle in order to clear the fence.
Police said Spincken was dead beneath the bridge. The boys were injured, but conscious and were taken to the St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson. Police believe tree branches helped cushion their fall, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.
“When the story was being relayed to me, I was expecting the worst ending possible,” DePuyt said. “It was a miracle and then it was a prompt and professional response.”
The boys’ survival was blessed news for their frantic mother.
“Beautiful children,” said neighbor Sandy Oddo. “The mother was, you know, a very loving mother. It’s so sad what happened.”
The family is new to the area — the tidy Pequannock home was purchased last summer for $589,000, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported. Their next-door neighbors saw nothing amiss.
“They moved from West Milford. Great guy — I talked to him all the time,” said neighbor Abe Balasis.
When asked how he squared his first impressions with what happened, Balasis added: “Something really had to go wrong. They looked loving; they looked – you know, they really did, you know, but you just don’t know what goes on behind closed doors; you know, you just don’t.”
Indeed, on social media, Spincken presented a benign face to the world – as a doting father and devoted husband. But something went terribly wrong.
Spincken ran a car detailing and cleaning business. His work van was still parked alongside the family’s two-car garage on Tuesday.
CBS2 has learned that Spincken was under severe financial strain with his business. State records show Spincken recently settled a $26,000 lien for unpaid taxes.
In 2003, Spincken did a brief stint in jail for a domestic violence incident and unlawful possession of a pellet gun.
Astrid Martinez, a high school friend who now anchors the news in Atlanta, posted on Facebook: “John was a funny, handsome guy, beautiful wife and children… a relatively normal functioning human being does not decide to kill themselves and their children unless they are suffering.”
Martinez was struggling late Tuesday to understand what brought Spincken to a mission of murder-suicide. She called him a loving father who was “so happy to be married to become a father.”
“I do know that recently he had sought help; reached out to people, but from what I understand he was in a dark place, and maybe it was too late,” she said.
The incident cast a long shockwave. A member of an outreach group from Kean University drove 40 minutes to leave a package for mother and the two children when they return from the hospital.
“It’s just such a tragedy. We don’t have enough mental health services available in the state of New Jersey,” said Kean University professor Dr. Norma Bowe. “I don’t know what happened with this family. I can’t even imagine. But such a tragedy for the family, the two children, the mom — and now they have to move forward with this history.”
The package contains two teddy bears one for each boy, although it was unclear Tuesday when they would be coming home. CBS2 is told the 3-year-old has a concussion, and the 1-year-old a bruised lung.
The investigation is ongoing.