It was dusk before they began removing the corpses from the chicken restaurant. The grim procession-seven body bags in all-confirmed the horror that had transpired inside, but it did little to satisfy the friends and mourners who kept vigil outside and struggled to find a reason for the massacre.
Among those fatally shot in the Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine were the couple who had bought the restaurant just months ago after the husband lost his job in a corporate shakeout; an immigrant cook who took the job three weeks ago after bringing his family back to the United States from Mexico; and two local high school students who worked at Brown's part time.
Police, confronted with Illinois' worst mass murder in two decades, moved with painstaking caution. Authorities did not release the names of the victims until almost 16 hours after the bodies were found in refrigeration units about 2:30 a.m. Saturday in the strip mall restaurant.They would not say whether robbery may have been a motive, nor detail any evidence that might indicate why the seven were slain.
While those watching and waiting had figured who some of the dead must be, Palatine police said there was a delay in identifying bodies because some were face down, or piled together, and investigators could not move them until they had finished studying the crime scene.
Police would not reveal whether they had found evidence of what kind of gun was used, or if more than one was used. They did not say if they believed more than one person was responsible.
Employees sobbing for their co-workers-some of them feeling guilty that they had gotten the fatal evening off-noted that a safe that sometimes contained as much as $3,000 was visible to customers and located near a rear door that was always left open.
Police sources said an Elgin man, Martin Blake, had been brought in for questioning. They did not say that he was a suspect. A Brown's employee said there was a worker of the same name at the restaurant, a popular gathering place for teenagers in the Northwestern suburb.
Maria Ramirez, who lives next door to Blake in Elgin, said police used her house for surveillance of his home Saturday.
The victims, according to police, included the owners, Richard E. Ehlenfeldt, 50, and his wife, Lynn W. Ehlenfeldt, 49, of Arlington Heights.
Also slain were five employees: Guadalupe Maldonado, 46, of Palatine, the cook; Michael C. Castro, 16, and Rico L. Solis, 17, both Palatine High School students; and Palatine residents Thomas Mennes, 32, and Marcus Nellsen, 31.
When Palatine police found the bodies, it was more than 5 1/2 hours after the 9 p.m. closing. Authorities learned of trouble at the restaurant when parents of one employee called police concerned that their son had not returned home from work.
When officers arrived at the store they spotted the rear door open. Inside, they found the seven bodies, some face down, in a cooler and a walk-in refrigerator, police said.
The slayings stunned other Brown's employees, who rushed to the restaurant at daybreak to learn which of their fellow workers had been killed.
Casey Sander, a 17-year-old Brown's employee, said she heard news of the shooting on the radio at home about 7 a.m., threw on her clothes and rode her bicycle to the store. When she arrived, five or six of her fellow workers ran to embrace her.
"They were really happy to see me. It was a very strange feeling," Sander said. "They thought I was dead, and I thought they were dead."
For weeks, Jason Georgi, 17, of Palatine, had been asking his supervisors at the restaurant for a Friday night off so he could spend it with friends at the big basketball game pitting Palatine High against cross-town rival Fremd.
"I feel terrible for whoever it was who took my place," Georgi said Saturday morning outside the store, where he and other workers waited in the cold most of the day. "If this was any other Friday night, that would be me in there."
Investigators from the Cook County Sheriff's Police Department and a multijurisdictional task force joined Palatine police in the probe. Officers were seen searching the inside of the restaurant and the bushes outside.
Employees congregating at the restaurant at 168 W. Northwest Highway expressed uneasiness about what they said was lax security at the store. Georgi said employees had discussed the establishment's vulnerability, particularly a rear door that usually was left unlocked with the store's floor safe about 8 feet from it.
Police find bodies of 2 teenagers, 5 adults in restaurant's coolers
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