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As West Seneca police investigated the suspicious death of Carol Quinn in her West Seneca apartment Saturday afternoon, one of her sons arrived for a visit, even though a court order of protection had been placed against him for allegedly harassing her a week earlier, police said.

Primitivo Cruz, 45, cooperated with police and answered their questions. He then left the Burch Avenue apartment building.

But Monday, he was described as “a person of interest” in his 77-year-old mother's death, which now has been labeled a homicide, following an autopsy in the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office.

“We didn't know what we had at the time,” West Seneca Police Chief Daniel M. Denz said Monday. “The son walked up the street after the first officers arrived at the scene. He was briefly interviewed and released. Since then, some things have come to light. We want to ask him some questions about items at the scene and whether anything is missing or if he would know a motive.”

Shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday, police responded to Quinn's first-floor apartment in a two-story brick building to check on her welfare. Relatives in Pennsylvania requested the check because they had been unable to reach her for a couple of days.

When Quinn did not answer the door, officers found another way into the locked residence and discovered the slain woman, Denz said in appealing for the public's assistance in locating Cruz. Authorities have said the woman was found in the living room.

A retired Buffalo school teacher's aide, Quinn was seen as a grandmother figure and neighbor who often sat outside in a wooden chair with her little white dog, Sabre, at her feet. She recently had opened her modest home to Cruz, “a drifter” who lived with her on and off, officials said.

But about a week ago, Quinn apparently could no longer tolerate her son's behavior. She called the police for help.

“He was arrested for harassment and removed from the scene,” Denz said. “There was an argument. It was minor in nature. An order of protection was issued.”

Cruz, who goes by the nicknames “Primo” and “Chico,” went to live with friends on the Kenmore-North Buffalo border, but he has since moved out, and police have been unable to locate him.

In the days after West Seneca police arrested Cruz, Quinn told a young neighbor who regarded her as a grandmother what had happened.

“Do you know why the police were here?” Quinn asked the young neighbor.

“No, why?” the boy answered.

“Because my son was drunk. He was loud and hiding in the basement,” Quinn responded, according to the boy's mother.

Police have not released a specific cause of death.

“At this point, we're looking at multiple causes,” said Capt. Michael Boehringer, West Seneca's chief of detectives. There is no evidence of a shooting, but police would not say anything more about the possible cause of death.

Besides losing their friend, neighbors talked about the shock of an apparent homicide in a neighborhood where the worst thing happening usually is somebody speeding down the street.

“This is just crazy,” neighbor Paul Schloerb said. “It's really a quiet neighborhood. Nothing like this happens here. ... If there's a maniac out there, I'd like to see him caught.”

Alishia Weikle, who lived in the other first-floor apartment across from Quinn's, said she called her “the gatekeeper” of their apartment building.

“She'd lived in each of the four apartments at one time or another. She knew everything that was going on. I would take her shopping to Tops, and my prize would be a can of Pepsi,” Weikle said. “When my boyfriend texted me that she was dead, I didn't believe him. I'm still in shock.”

A widow, Quinn also has a daughter, Cindy, and two other sons, Dave and Jim, according to Brian Russer, a close family friend who accompanied relatives to the West Seneca police station Monday.

“It's horrible for the family,” Russer said. “She was a phenomenal woman.”

When one of her sons arrived at her West Seneca apartment Saturday night and learned she had been found dead under suspicious circumstances, he tore off his muscle shirt and began a very public display of grief.

“Somebody's killed my mother! Somebody's killed my mother!” the son cried as neighbors watched.

Neighbors who gathered near the apartment building throughout the day Monday said it just didn't seem right that Quinn was missing from her chair.

“The chair is like a symbol of what used to be,” neighbor Debbie Bald said. “She should be sitting in it. They better leave that chair there.”

Anyone with information on Cruz's whereabouts or Quinn's death is asked to call the West Seneca Detective Bureau at 674-3154 or the Police Department's main number, 674-2280.



email: lmichel@buffnews.com and gwarner@buffnews.com