When Beth Pence returned to the street where her husband and son were killed Wednesday night, her neighbor and friend Michael Soignet was there.
“She just gave me a strapping hug, and I choked up. She choked up,” Soignet said. “There were just no words.”
The double homicide that claimed the lives of David and Nicholas Pence just before midnight on Wednesday has sent fear rippling through a once-serene block of Clifford Drive. Neighbors have been left worrying about what happened — and why.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office has no further news to announce in the ongoing investigation, spokesman Col. John Fortunato said Friday.
As deputies look for clues, they likely will be grappling with many of the same questions that neighbors are: Who could have wanted to kill the 56-year-old father, described as a gregarious family man who loved his black Mustang? Or his 25-year-old son, obsessed with the Pelicans and Saints? And how could an assailant have shot and killed the two men in a span of just minutes and without alerting neighbors, in a house that police said showed no signs of forced entry?
“That’s why this whole thing baffles us like it does, because it’s surreal. It’s something that couldn’t happen to a guy like him,” Soignet said.
David Pence sustained three shotgun wounds, while the younger Pence was shot twice. The attack happened just before 11:53 p.m., when Beth called police. The murder weapon has not turned up.
Beth Pence, 55, is an administrator with the Jefferson Parish School Board. Neighbors said she had just received a promotion.
She told detectives that a side door had been left unlocked the night of the shooting, a detail that did not surprise Soignet: Nicholas and his friends, he said, often watched movies and hung out in a separate garage, dubbed the “Mancave,” and they would use that side door to come into the house and grab beer.
“The reason there was no forced entry is because it was such a safe neighborhood,” Soignet said.
The younger Pence’s friend, 25-year-old Chris Meyer, said he was in the garage just minutes before the murder with another friend. Meyer said he didn’t notice anything unusual about Pence that evening.
Pence and the friends he hung out with at the house, Soignet said, were “just all-around good Metairie kids.”
Meyer worked with Pence at his father’s shop, Meyer the Hatter in New Orleans. Pence’s Facebook page catalogs his excitement at meeting the celebrities who would pass through the store.
“Sold Wendell Pierce some kangols and pitched some ideas for treme season 2,” one post read, referring to the New Orleans actor. Photos show Pence with a broad, beaming smile, surrounded by friends.
“Nick was more the geeky, nerdy type, fun, humorous, quick with a joke,” Soignet said. “He was a kid with the glasses and the silly smile.”
Soignet described the relationship between Beth and David, an IT professional at the New Orleans firm Baker Hughes, as close and warm. The two would attend neighborhood Halloween parties in joint costumes. He liked to have fun and so did she: Tailgating before Saints games at the family’s traditional spot near the Claiborne Expressway, she would remind everyone to take their ceremonial shot.
“They were a perfect couple together,” Soignet said. “They were like two teenagers.”
Often, Soignet and David Pence would just hang out together: talking about the latter’s beloved Mustang convertible, or which Frank Zappa song was their favorite; sharing a pack of cigars at a backyard barbecue; or getting ready with the men of the Krewe of Thoth for Carnival.
“You’ll never find anybody that’s going to throw out a bad word on them, and if somebody does, they don’t have their story right,” Soignet said. “This had to be a random act. It had to be.”