The next-door neighbor of a woman who police say used a shotgun to kill her 10-year-old daughter, her disabled father and herself said Thursday the woman recently confided in him that she was suffering from a "very debilitating" illness.
Penelope Luddy, who lived in a Rochester suburb in western New York, didn't elaborate on what was wrong when she ran into her neighbor, Tony Henderson, at a grocery store a few weeks ago, Henderson said.
"She was worried but she didn't give me the impression it was going to be life-threatening," said the 63-year-old retired college residence-hall manager. "I just felt she was having a problem that hopefully through medicine could get cured."
Authorities say Luddy, 53, persuaded her husband, Michael, to go visit a sick relative at around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. When he returned just over an hour later, he found his wife dead and their daughter, Alexandra, and his father-in-law, Harold Bertram, 79, gravely wounded in the basement of their Perinton home on a quiet cul-de-sac.
Bertram, who was physically disabled and had lived in the finished basement for years, managed to tell sheriff's deputies what had happened just before he died. He and the girl, who was pronounced dead at a hospital, had each been shot twice with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Luddy had been "extremely distraught" for the past few weeks and may have been undergoing treatment, the Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn said. He declined to elaborate except to say that "the family had been concerned."
Henderson described Luddy as a cheerful, outgoing and generous neighbor who brought over flowers when his family moved in nearly two years ago. Luddy called her only child "a miracle baby" who was born after Luddy suffered several miscarriages, said Henderson's wife, Melinda.
"She was a great mom, great all the way around," she said. "That's why we saw absolutely nothing coming. I think some type of depression just overtook her because there's no way she would have harmed her baby. She had to have just snapped."
Known to her neighbors as Penny, Luddy helped run an informal women's club, passed out paper luminaria lanterns at Christmastime, was active in her fifth-grader's Girl Scout troop and organized cookie sales and Halloween games for neighborhood children.
When police, alerted by Luddy's husband, showed up Wednesday, Melinda Henderson said she watched from her porch as he walked down his driveway, his arms aloft, then sank to his knees crying.
"The first thing in my mind was `Who could have done this?' Then I heard it was Penny herself. I was just shocked out of my mind. It was just so sad. They were always so friendly, so nice, just lovin' people."
She speculated that the 5-foot-3 Luddy sent her burly, 6-foot-1 husband off on an errand because "he could have overpowered her _ and Alexandra or the grandfather couldn't."
The weapon belonged to Michael Luddy, 57, a maintenance worker at a Johnson & Johnson plant's maintenance division.
"It wasn't something he (bought) without her knowledge," said sheriff's Lt. Mike Fowler. "It had been in the home for a little while."
The couple had obtained pistol permits in September, but police were unable to find any record of either buying a gun, Fowler said. No permit would have been required for the shotgun, he said.