Second New Jersey Councilman Shot Dead In A Week

Police in New Jersey reacted to a shooting on Wednesday morning in the parking lot of the energy firm PSE&G. They discovered a Republican councilman shot to death outside of his car when they got there; he was the second elected official in the state to die in the previous week.

For over a decade, Milford Borough Councilman Russell Heller had worked at PSE&G in Franklin Township. He was a senior distribution supervisor. Before 7 a.m. Wednesday, one of the company’s former employees approached Heller in the parking lot and shot him, police said in a statement. Heller, 51, was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Three hours later, police tracked down the shooter, Gary Curtis, age 58, and discovered him in a parking lot near Bridgewater Township. He had “a self-inflicted gunshot wound” when police arrived at his car, and he was declared dead there, according to authorities.

Authorities are still looking into the circumstances surrounding Heller’s murder, similar to the shooting death last week of Republican Sayreville Borough Council member Eunice Dwumfour, 30, who was killed inside her car. About 40 miles east of Milford is Sayreville.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Deputy Chief Frank Roman Jr. from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office said that so far, the “investigation has revealed that the shooting of Mr. Heller was not politically connected with his elected office or political affiliation.”

Second New Jersey Councilman Shot Dead In A Week
Second New Jersey Councilman Shot Dead In A Week

“This is such a crazy, dreadful and random coincidence,” Milford Borough Mayor Henry Schepens told The Post. “But there’s no connection with the other councilwoman, except that they both cared for their communities and were diligent public servants.”

The shooting of Mr. Heller was not politically related to his elected job or political affiliation. According to the inquiry so far, the “investigation has revealed that the shooting of Mr. Heller was not politically connected with his elected office or political affiliation.”

“This is such a crazy, dreadful and random coincidence,” Milford Borough Mayor Henry Schepens told The Post. “But there’s no connection with the other councilwoman, except that they both cared for their communities and were diligent public servants.”

Schepens said that Heller’s life was marked by his “absolute love” for his hometown of fewer than 2,000 residents. Though Heller was first elected to council in 2017 — then reelected in 2020 — he was part of a “family with a long-standing tradition of public service,” as Heller’s parents both served as local elected officials. One of seven children, Heller loved being around people and had a smile “that could just light up the room,” Schepens added. He was also the father of a 19-year-old daughter and was passionate about all things nature and exercise.

“As a member of council, he always had this positive attitude about problems and came up with solutions that considered everyone,” Schepens said. “But as [a] friend, he was just great. He lived his life with gusto and loved this little town.”

Commemorations from coworkers, friends, and elected leaders poured in as word of Heller’s passing spread.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Russell Heller’s family and friends in the wake of this tragic act of gun violence,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Thomas H. Kean Jr. (R-N.J.), who represents the congressional district where Milford is situated, reiterated Murphy’s statement.

The Milford Merchants Association remarked on Facebook that Heller’s beloved western New Jersey town was devastated by the passing of its “well-loved, friendly, industrious councilman.” The 51-year-old “greatly liked serving the inhabitants of the area that he grew up in and was constantly trying to improve whatever he could,” the Milford Fire Company Station 92 said of Heller, calling him “an advocate of our tiny town’s fire company.”

“It’s heartbreaking and just incomprehensible that this would happen,” Schepens said. “But it’s really a beautiful sight to see how a community comes together in light of such a tragedy. We’re rallying for [Heller’s] family and trying to help as we can.”

Last week, Eunice Dwumfour was shot and killed while driving outside her New Jersey home in what police suspect to have been a premeditated attack. On Wednesday, a vigil was conducted in her honor, and according to local media, authorities claim they are still looking into the crime.

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