LOS ANGELES -- Awash in debt, behind on his mortgage and recently fired from his job at a hospital, Ervin Lupoe was planning on leaving California.
The 40-year-old father of five pulled his children out of school, packed his sport utility vehicle with snow chains and winter clothing for him and his family and appeared ready for the trip to his brother-in-law's home in Garden City, Kan.
It's not yet known if he was planning on leaving for good in a bid to flee his mounting money problems or if the trip would have only been temporary.
Whatever his intention, Lupoe never got to Kansas.
Instead, police say, he shot his five children and wife to death before turning the gun on himself.
"Something happened in the last 48 hours that made him snap," said Detective David Cortez of the Los Angeles Police Department, the lead investigator in the case. "[He saw] no other way, no other direction."
Investigators found evidence of spiraling financial woes, including a bounced check to the Internal Revenue Service. Lupoe owed at least $15,000, as well as thousands of dollars on a home equity line of credit.
He also was at least one month behind on a mortgage for his home in Wilmington, near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Cortez said.
But Cortez said it was Lupoe, not the stagnant state of the economy, that was to blame.
"Being there and walking through the crime scene, it's a lot easier to see him as the suspect that did this to other people than the economy did this to him," Cortez said. "It's how he chose to respond to the circumstances; he had options."
Police found the bodies of Lupoe, his wife and five children Tuesday morning. The bodies of 2-year-old twin boys, Benjamin and Christian, were beside their dead mother, Ana. In another bedroom, the bodies of 5-year-old twin girls, Jaszmin and Jassely, and their 8-year-old sister Brittney lay on a mattress pad next to their lifeless father.
He appeared to have attempted to muffle the sound of gunfire by shooting a semiautomatic handgun through a pillow.
"It looked like they were all caught by surprise," Cortez said.
Neighbors' reports of firecracker sounds indicated the family might have been killed the evening before and Lupoe shot himself the next day, Cortez said.
Lupoe and his 38-year-old wife both were recently fired from their jobs as hospital technicians at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center West Los Angeles. They had lied about their income to try to get cheaper child care, Cortez said.
Lupoe phoned his brother-in-law Monday morning saying he was on his way to Kansas, Cortez said. Caesar Ramirez asked to speak to his sister but Lupoe declined. The next he heard from Lupoe was a phone call Tuesday morning saying he'd just killed his family and he left everything, including a small settlement from a traffic accident, to his brother-in-law.
Ramirez called Garden City police who contacted Los Angeles police, Garden City police Sgt. Michael Reagle said.
Lupoe had faxed a bitter, two-page letter to a local TV news station the morning he killed himself, saying a hospital administrator told him he "should not even have bothered to come to work" and "should have blown (his) brains out."
Investigators interviewed the hospital administrator, who said Lupoe's characterization of their conversation was an out-of-context misrepresentation and denied using the words Lupoe said she did.
In his letter, Lupoe went on to suggest it was his wife's idea to end the family members' lives.
"He had one of those victim mentalities," Cortez said. "There is nothing yet that suggests his wife was a willing party."
Associated Press Writer Maria Fisher in Kansas City and AP National Writer Pauline Arrillaga in Los Angeles contributed to this story.