Chris Meyer said there was no sign Wednesday evening that his best friend, Nicholas Pence, was about to be killed.
The two 25-year-olds were hanging out in the garage behind the Pence family’s ranch house on a quiet street in Metairie.
Fifteen minutes later, Pence and his father, David, were dead, murdered with a shotgun.
Now, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office is scrambling to piece together a crime that left a usually peaceful neighborhood stunned.
“This is a double homicide,” said Col. John Fortunato, the spokesman for the office. “Who killed them, we do not know.”
There was no nervousness or concern as the younger Pence relaxed with buddies late Wednesday night, Meyer said.
The younger Pence was a salesman at Meyer’s father’s business, the famous New Orleans store Meyer the Hatter. His Facebook page lists Pence as a graduate of De La Salle High School in New Orleans. The two childhood friends grew up around the corner from each other.
Pence and his friends had gone out for drinks at a bar, then retired to the garage to play board games and watch “The Office” on Netflix, Meyer said.
About 11:45 p.m., Meyer said, he left to go home.
At 11:53 p.m., Beth Pence called 911: She had just found her son and husband, 56-year-old David Pence, in the living room, dead. David Pence was found sitting in a chair, and his son was found lying on the floor.
The father had sustained three gunshot wounds and the son two, Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich said. Both were shot in the head and likely died instantly. There were no other signs of trauma.
Police are still trying to figure out what happened in that brief span at the house on Clifford Drive. They have ruled out the possibility of a murder-suicide. Beth Pence told homicide detectives that she had heard what sounded like glass breaking. Police found no signs of forced entry, but Beth Pence said a side door was unlocked. Detectives are not yet sure whether anything was stolen from the house.
On Thursday morning, sheriff’s deputies were still peering into green trash bins and canvassing the neighborhood, searching for a murder weapon.
Neighbors stood dazed across the street. Several had spent the whole night awake, watching as deputies combed through their backyards looking for clues.
Meyer said he went numb in disbelief when he heard the news Wednesday night.
“You never expect to have a front-row seat in your front yard like this,” said Sam Liljeberg, who grew up with Beth Pence. Liljeberg said he moved back to the neighborhood from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina so his children would have a safe street on which to ride their bikes and play.
The Pences were a family of diehard Saints fans, Liljeberg said, the type of people who would invite the whole neighborhood over to watch a game. He said Beth Pence is a school administrator, adding, “She’s funny; she’s nice.”
David Pence was a longtime employee at the engineering firm Baker Hughes in New Orleans. A Facebook page for the family’s daughter, Tara, indicated she is a student at the University of New Orleans.
“This is the most normal family,” said Donna Lassalle, who lives across the street. “They’re just nice, regular people.”
Inside the crime tape wrapped around the Pences’ low-slung brick house on Thursday morning were all the signs of suburban normalcy: a newspaper on the grass, a Krewe of Thoth banner in front of the bushes and a Jeep in the driveway.
Lassalle said her first reaction after hearing about the murders was, “ ‘Oh my God,’ because we didn’t hear anything.”
The last disturbance Liljeberg could remember in the neighborhood happened blocks away several years ago, when police caught some attempted armed burglars after they failed to break into a house.
Liljeberg was left worrying for his own family’s safety and wondering: Were the Pence men killed by someone they knew, or was it a stranger?
“There’s no good outcome,” he said.