Illinois remembers 4 slain in Rockford knife attack after authorities charge 22-year-old man in rampage

ROCKFORD, Ill. — Early Thursday, Craig Garr stood in his driveway in southeast Rockford and watched a tow service load his Jeep Grand Cherokee onto the bed of a truck.

Blood was still spattered on his driveway. It was on his door frame, on his yard decorations and all over two rocks that usually sat by his front door but on Thursday were lying near a set of deep tire tracks on his front lawn.

From his kitchen window and then his front door on Wednesday, Garr, 74, witnessed a man stab, beat up and run over the neighborhood’s longtime mail carrier, killing him in an attack that authorities said spanned multiple homes throughout the neighborhood and left four dead, including a 15-year-old girl, and seven injured.

Christian Soto, 22, of Winnebago County, was charged Thursday with 11 counts of murder or attempted murder and two counts of home invasion with a deadly weapon for allegedly carrying out the attacks, according to Winnebago County sheriff records. Soto said after his arrest that he had gone on the violent spree after becoming paranoid under the influence of drugs he thought were contaminated, officials said Thursday.

Court records show Soto lives about a block from where the attacks took place. He is being held at the Winnebago County Jail and is set to be back in court next week.

Authorities said Thursday that Soto used a knife and a baseball bat to attack the victims and attempted to run over some of them with his truck. Rockford Mayor Thomas McNamara identified the dead as Ramona Schupbach, 63, Jacob Schupbach, 23, Jay Larson, 49, and Jenna Newcomb, 15.

Garr’s mail came early Wednesday afternoon. It was two pieces. Just after the letters came through the slot, Garr said he was in his computer room and heard “a commotion, like a garbage truck.”

“I looked out my window and I saw a guy hovering by my window. And then I saw the mail guy down there and he was just beating the (expletive) out of him,” he said. “And I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And the guy said, ‘He stole money from me.'”

Then the letter carrier, Larson, rolled over. He recognized Garr. “He said, ‘Call 911.'”

Garr said the man beating up the mail carrier saw he had the phone in his hand and made for the front door. Garr shut and bolted the door “so he couldn’t get in the house.”

From his window, Garr said he saw the man continue to attack the man before getting in a black truck.

“He floored it, like down to the ground, and ran over the mailman,” Garr said. “Smashed my car. Then he put it in reverse and backed over the mailman in my yard.”

Garr did not sleep Wednesday night.

Hours after Garr’s car was towed and he spoke with investigating officers, Michelle Reed and her daughter Amelia Rodriguez arrived early to a vigil honoring the victims with a bundle of balloons, a prayer candle, a bouquet of flowers and a stuffed animal.

Jenna Newcomb was a close friend of Amelia’s, they said. Amelia, 16, remembered Jenna as a caring person who aspired to become a labor and delivery nurse in honor of her mom and little brother.

“She thought everybody should have a chance with a kid and a safe delivery,” she said of Jenna. Jenna also played softball and participated on the dance and cheerleading teams at Rockford East High School. She loved to put her cat on her social media and didn’t like negative people: “She was a peacemaker with everybody,” Amelia said.

The girls had been looking forward to attending college together, Reed added. In the meantime, they’d been making plans for Jenna’s birthday and playing a lot of badminton together. They had been planning to get together this week, Amelia said.

Tito Leggett, 20, said he’d attended the gathering out of concern for the victims and their families but also because he was rattled on the heels of a first fatal stabbing that had taken place at a Rockford Wal-Mart just days earlier and claimed the life of a teenage worker.

He hadn’t know the victim of the first stabbing, identified as Jason Jenkins, personally, but said they’d had social overlap.

Leggett, Amelia and her mother were among hundreds who gathered at the vigil Thursday afternoon, which included prayer offerings from local religious and political leaders recognizing both Jenkins and the victims of the Wednesday attack.

National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 245 President Lawrence Steward said Larson was beloved by his fellow postal workers and also in the community where he’d worked for 25 years.

“Jay lived — nobody’s got to lie about how much they loved him,” Steward said. “It is up to all of us to look out for all of us. Jay gave his life in service to his community. Jay could have ran, he could have ignored (the attack) — he confronted it head-on.”

Rockford resident Tracy Smith was one of the residents who feared for Larson’s safety in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. She spent much of Wednesday night poring over video footage from her home doorbell system, her dog pacing at her feet. She played back a snippet of tape from 12:55 p.m. over and over, watching a figure cross the screen.

“Yep, that’s him,” she said.

Smith, 56, has lived near the intersection of Cleveland and Holmes since the late 1990s and said Larson would smile and wave at the front door even if he couldn’t see someone in the home, she said.

Court records show that Soto admitted to “taking out the mailman” on Garr’s front lawn just before he stabbed three more residents in a home on the 4800 block of Cleveland Avenue, one of whom hit him with bottle of syrup in defense. Those three injured victims were treated and released at a nearby hospital, prosecutors said.

According to court records, he was arrested while fleeing the scene of another stabbing in the neighborhood in which he had seriously injured a woman and a man who got out of his car to help her before trying to steal the man’s car, authorities said.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley said the attacks began in the home on Holmes Street. He told officials that he and Jacob Schupbach, a friend, were smoking weed that he believed to be “laced.” He then took a kitchen knife out of the family’s kitchen and stabbed Jacob and his mother Ramona, he allegedly admitted.

After Soto fled the home where he had been hit with the syrup bottle, prosecutors said he broke into a home down the block, with a bat, where three girls were watching a movie during a sleepover. He struck all three with the bat, killing Jenna Newcomb and injuring the other two. Prosecutors said Soto admitted to “hitting the three kids in the basement with the bat.”

At a media briefing Thursday, an emotional McNamara said Jenna’s mother “wants the community to know that Jenna died saving her sister and her friend and protecting them.”

Soto appeared briefly at an arraignment hearing Thursday at the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Center, wearing a yellow Winnebago County Jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him and visible injuries to his face. Judge Scott Paccagnini ordered the hearing continued until 11 a.m. April 2 and for Soto to be detained until then.