Patrick Preston awoke late Wednesday night to a frantic knock on his door and some devastating news: His sister, niece and nephew were dead after an “ambush” in the garage of their Gentilly home.
“That about killed me,” Preston said Thursday. “I jumped in my car and I hightailed it out there and turned the corner and saw all this chaos.”
The shooting happened at his sister’s home in the 4400 block of Jeanne Marie Place in Gentilly, a home long beset by domestic violence.
And it was where the lives of Christine George, 39, a New Orleans Police Department dispatcher; Trisa, 20, her daughter; and Leonard, 18, her son, met their end.
Police questioned and released Shawn Peterson, who had recently been booted from the house, in the deaths.
Peterson is the father of Leonard George and Christine George’s ex-boyfriend and is out on parole on an attempted-murder charge and a more recent gun charge.
Family members said investigators’ immediate focus on Peterson was as stunning as the deaths.
What actually happened Wednesday night at the George house remained unknown Thursday.
Police released no new details about the case.
Christine George’s sister-in-law said from what detectives told them, the murder was an ambush, though she did not know who was responsible.
Deidre Preston said Trisa George, a graduate of O. Perry Walker High School who was taking pre-pharmacy courses at Delgado Community College, picked up her mother from her job as an NOPD dispatcher on Wednesday night and drove her back to the home on Jeanne Marie Place.
Instead of parking on the curb in front of the house, she drove down an alleyway and into the garage.
“That was strange,” Preston said.
Someone was either waiting for the sport utility vehicle or approached it once it pulled in, relatives said.
It was not clear if there was a home invasion before the shooting, but Leonard George, who was in the home, wound up in the SUV with his sister and mother, Patrick Preston said. “I don’t know how he got in the truck. It’s a mystery to me.”
Another younger sibling who was in the house playing video games was not harmed, Preston said.
While Preston said he did not know the reason behind the carnage, he also did not know how to handle the next steps.
“I don’t know how to plan three funerals,” he said.
Court documents, however, show a tumultuous — and sometimes vicious — relationship among members of the household.
Peterson has a long history of violence, dating back to his 18th birthday, with sporadic stints in prison.
One, beginning in the 1990s, lasted more than a decade.
He was booked with attempted first-degree murder in July 1989.
The district attorney dismissed the charge the following month.
The details of that case, and most of the others he’s been charged in, remain murky.
Because they are closed and decades old, neither the district attorney nor the court clerk could immediately provide the files.
No reports of his arrests could be found in newspaper archives.
In 1991, two years after that attempted-murder arrest, Peterson and five other men were charged with manslaughter and conspiracy to commit manslaughter.
The charges against them all were reduced to conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, and he pleaded guilty in September 1992, accepting a five-year prison sentence.
Peterson was out of prison by October 1994, when he was arrested again and booked with extortion and attempted murder.
He pleaded guilty the following year to the attempted-murder charge and was sentenced to 20 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Peterson was released on good-time parole more than 10 years later, in January 2005.
He was still on parole when, in March 2007, he filed for a restraining order against Christine George.
Peterson asked in court records that she be kept away from him, his fiancée and his mother.
He accused George of stalking him. He wrote that on Jan. 23 of that year, she left him a voicemail threatening to harm him and his fiancée.
She warned him that “my mother will cry over me.”
George at the time worked at a private school. She called him from the school, he said, and he called back to tell her boss what she’d done.
She called back to tell him that if she got fired, he’d be dead, he wrote the court.
She already had broken his car windows and slashed his tires, he claimed. Then in March, she allegedly called his mother to say “she is going to punch her in the face.”
Three days after Peterson filed for the protective order, George reciprocated, filing for a restraining order against him, asking that he be kept away from her and their son, Leonard George, then just 12.
She claimed he had showed up at her house uninvited and unannounced, also on Jan. 23, 2007. She wasn’t home, so he called her to say he wanted custody of the boy.
George was afraid of Peterson, she wrote. Her son and neighbors said he passed by the house every day. He would park a block away and stare, she wrote.
He had continuously “beat and kick me in front of my kids and verbally abuse me and kids as well as his mother,” she wrote.
“I told Shawn Peterson, ‘you are a convicted felon of murder and attempted murder, you will lose that battle in court,’ ” she wrote.
“Shawn Peterson said, ‘you know what’s going to happen when I see you, I will slap the s--t out of you and go back to jail.’ ”
About a year later, in June 2008, the fiancée Peterson mentioned in his complaint also filed a civil action against him.
Online records indicate she filed two petitions, one for a restraining order and another for a divorce and sole custody. The outcome of that case is unclear; Orleans Parish Civil District Court officials said Thursday the file has been misplaced.
The former fiancée could not be reached for comment.
A few months after she filed for the restraining order against Peterson, he was booked with five counts of aggravated assault and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Prosecutors dropped the assault counts, but he was handed another seven years on the gun charge.
His parole on the attempted murder charge was revoked and he was sent back to prison.
He was released five months ago, in April, and is scheduled to be on parole for another five years.
Preston said his sister and Peterson were living together in the Jeanne Marie Place home until several weeks ago, when Peterson got the boot.
Preston said he didn’t know what happened and he saw the two together at home in recent days. Everything seemed to be fine, he said.
The parents weren’t the only members of the family caught up in a web of domestic violence. Court records suggest life in the George household was anything but peaceful.
In January, 2012, police arrested Trisa George on a count of aggravated battery after her brother, Leonard George, accused her of stabbing him in the thumb with a kitchen knife in a dispute over the whereabouts of a telephone.
A year later, the roles reversed: Trisa George and another brother, Jaron George, now 16, complained of being attacked by Leonard George at the home just before noon on Jan. 13.
According to a brief police report, Leonard George stood behind his sister, reached his arm around her throat and tried to strangle her.
Jaron George broke up the fight, then Leonard George drew a black handgun on Trisa George.
“I’ll kill your stupid ass,” he told her, then ran away.
He returned 20 minutes later, and the argument resumed.
Jaron George also returned, and Leonard George tried to punch him. Jaron punched back.
Leonard left again, then returned to try once again to beat up his little brother.
When police showed up, Leonard George told them: “I didn’t do nothin’ man. They jumped me. This is low down, dog.”
He was booked with attempted murder, aggravated assault, simple assault and simple battery.
The family continued to live together, but his sister still took out a stay-away order against him the next day.
Both cases were dismissed by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office.
Cannizzaro spokesman Christopher Bowman said it was because the victims in each case refused to cooperate after calling the police.
“Quite simply, it’s another sad case of domestic violence where at first the victims are very quick to call police, which makes sense because they want to extricate themselves from a violent situation,” Bowman said. “Unfortunately they’re very slow to cooperate with a prosecution. We have seen this far too often, in particular in domestic violence cases.”
Cannizzaro’s office has prosecuted cases before where victims refused to cooperate, but in the case against Leonard George, Bowman said, there were conflicting statements and no corroborating evidence.
“There was a history of domestic violence in that house,” he said. “It’s a sad situation. Violence begets violence. And look where we are today.”