February 14, 2008 – Bridgetown, New Jersey – An Iraq war veteran believed by family members to have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was shot to death by police after repeatedly stabbing his stepfather Wednesday morning, according to authorities.
City police responded to a report of a fight at 365 Atlantic St., at 6:45 a.m., involving U.S. Army veteran German Sanabria, according to Cumberland County Prosecutor Ron Casella.
Officers heard screaming inside the home and forced their way inside.
Police found Sanabria’s mother, Eva Garcia, 53, running down the steps, covered in blood.
After making their way to a back bedroom of the home, police found Sanabria, 26, stabbing his 79-year-old stepfather, Frank Garcia, with what appeared to be a steak knife, Casella said.
Police repeatedly attempted to stop the assault without using deadly force, according to Casella.
“(Police Officer) Elizabeth Rodriguez attempted to pull Sanabria off the victim but was pushed away. (Officer) Anthony Keller yelled for Sanabria to put down his weapon, but Sanabria continued stabbing his stepfather,” he said.
Keller fired one shot, striking Sanabria.
Sanabria died as a result of the shooting.
“From what the investigators are saying, (Keller) saved (Garcia’s) life,” Casella said.
Frank Garcia was listed in stable condition at Cooper University Hospital in Camden as of 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Eva Garcia was taken to South Jersey Healthcare-Regional Medical Center, in Vineland. She was evaluated and released.
Sanabria was living at 365 Atlantic St. with his mother and stepfather.
Casella was uncertain what sparked the violence inside the home Wednesday morning.
Celia Ray, who is Eva Garcia’s cousin, told the News late Wednesday afternoon that Sanabria had been experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including paranoia.
“All the symptoms that he had lately, that’s why we tried to get him help. … He was afraid of everything,” she said. “He thought someone was following him and wanted to kill him.”
Though concerned about his mental state since he returned from Iraq 21 months ago, Sanabria’s family felt he took a turn for the worse earlier this month, after watching the Super Bowl with friends in Vineland on Feb. 3, according to Ray.
Sanabria was observed at the crisis unit at South Jersey Healthcare-Bridgeton Health Center last Friday afternoon after his family, concerned by his recent behavior, sought help from police.
“On Friday, when we took him there, even though he kept telling them that he was OK, they should have kept him there,” Ray said.
Sanabria was accepted for evaluation at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Philadelphia, on Monday, according to Ray, but officials there found no reason to keep him against his will.
He left the facility as family members, including Ray, waited for him, not knowing he had left.
“The doctors said that he was OK … that there was nothing they could do (to keep him there) because he was an adult,” Ray said.
After learning that he had left the veterans hospital, Sanabria’s family unsuccessfully searched Philadelphia’s streets for him.
“We knew that he wasn’t right,” Ray said.
They reported him missing to Bridgeton Police around 1 a.m. Tuesday.
Sanabria returned home around noon Tuesday, at which point police removed him from a missing-persons database.
It’s not clear what happened in the home between his return and the call to police Wednesday morning.
Casella said that an autopsy will be conducted on Sanabria’s body on Thursday.
The prosecutor’s office is investigating both the officer-involved shooting and the stabbing.
Sanabria served two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army.
Casella said he was not aware of Sanabria’s current military status, and the Department of Defense did not respond Wednesday to an inquiry regarding his service history.
Keller and Rodriguez have been put on administrative leave, according to acting Bridgeton Police Chief Mark Ott.
Rodriguez could return to work in approximately two weeks, Ott said, but Keller’s expected return date remained undetermined as of Wednesday afternoon.
Three additional officers who responded to the Garcias’ home will be cleared to return to work on the streets in about a week, “barring any additional recommendations by qualified medical personnel,” Ott said.
After saying that it would be impossible to determine with any degree of certainty how Keller and Rodriguez are dealing with the shooting, Ott indicated they appeared OK when he spoke to them.
“I believe they are holding up well under the stress of the incident,” Ott said.
The five officers were offered help dealing with the stress Wednesday morning.
“Through the PBA (Policemen’s Benevolent Association), psychological counseling was made available through what’s called the CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) team,” Ott said.
Additional psychological services have been made available to the officers if they feel they need more help.