OCEAN TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The family that was found dead at the scene of a “suspicious” fire in Colts Neck, New Jersey were victims of “homicidal violence” prior to the blaze, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni identified the victims as Keith and Jennifer Caneiro and their two children Jesse, 11, and Sophia, 8. Gramiccioni said the children’s identifications were delayed because of the burn damage their bodies sustained in the inferno.
Gramiccioni called it one of the most heinous crimes his team has ever investigated, and by early Wednesday the FBI had joined the investigation.
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“The case has transcended into a multiple homicide investigation in addition to the arson matter,” Gramiccioni said. “Unfortunately, sadly, each of these individuals were the victims of homicidal violence at some point prior to when the fire was set.”
Prosecutors said Keith Caneiro, whose remains were found in front of the home on Willow Brook Road, had been shot but authorities do not believe it was a self-inflicted injury.
“We believe in some form or fashion that this family was targeted,” he said, adding he did not feel this was “random violence.”
Officials couldn’t yet go into detail on how Jennifer and the two children were killed, only that the kids did not go to school on Tuesday and their deaths may have occurred hours before the fire was set. As to motive, Gramiccioni said it was too early to say.
Wednesday morning, police arrested Paul Caneiro, 52, the brother of the owner of the Colts Neck mansion, charging him with arson for a fire at his own home in nearby Ocean Township.
The criminal complaint says Caneiro “set fire to his residence by using gasoline and igniting the gasoline causing the residence to catch fire while his wife and two daughters were inside.”
If convicted, Paul Caneiro could face 5-10 years in prison on the arson charge.
Paul and Keith were business partners, Gramiccioni said. They owned a technology company in Asbury Park and a pest control company.
Gramiccioni was asked if Paul Caneiro was a suspect in any of the murders.
“I can’t confirm or deny that at this time,” he said.
Close friends told CBS2 the family was just in shock, and there remained many questions as to what happened inside their home just days before Thanksgiving. Despite Keith Caneiro being found in front of the home deceased suffering from a gunshot wound, Gramiccioni said no firearm was found at the scene.
It took firefighters from 20 departments four hours to get the blaze under control.
Nobody was injured in the Ocean Township fire, but police are now trying to connect the dots. No charges have been filed in the Colts Neck fire or in the homicides, but Paul Caneiro is facing one count of aggravated arson for allegedly trying to burn his own home down.
Gramiccioni asked for people with any information about either incident to call authorities.