A fight, a fire, then 2 people dead; neighbors recount the hours before lives changed
Close to a week after a home was set on fire and a couple who lived nearby shot dead, neighbors are trying to come to terms with the unthinkable.
The mayhem that escalated over hours began with a family quarrel. According to Springfield Police, Mark Crites Jr. fought with his brother about 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, then poured gasoline throughout their Genoa Drive home, set it ablaze, and fled.
Sometime later and a mile away, John and Gloria Norgaard were shot dead in their Southwind Road home. Crites, 23, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in their deaths.
Sharika Griffin lives across the street from Crites in the subdivision made up of mostly duplex homes. She was not surprised the 23-year-old was accused in the shooting.
"The cops would be over here all the time because of something he's done," Griffin said. His family "would always call the cops on him, so I wasn't surprised when it happened."
She described Crites as the quiet type who "wasn't really social at all."
Griffin was mowing her grass and saw "a guy coming out of the house and a bunch of black smoke as he came out the door. I asked him, 'Was there a fire inside?' He said that the son had just set them on fire and took off."
Springfield police reported searching the neighborhood, businesses and nearby Southwind Park for Crites without finding him.
The Norgaard home backed up to Southwind Park. Authorities suspect Crites wandered the park before confronting the couple early Sunday in their home.
The couple, John, 67, and Gloria, 69, had been married 45 years, according to their obituary. John owned Norgaard Paint and Body. Gloria worked at Springfield Clinic. He was a fan of classic cars. They both enjoyed being with family and were remembered in private family services.
A family member found them dead about 8 a.m. Sunday morning and called 911.
"It's definitely a sad thing," said neighbor Shawn Paul, who offered sympathy to the Norgaard family, adding he hopes they can get through the "extremely difficult" situation.
Crites was arrested Monday in Benld when someone reported a black 2008 Dodge Charger parked on a street. He was initially charged with aggravated and residential battery before the murder counts were added by Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright on Tuesday. He's jailed on $5 million bond with a next court appearance on Sept. 26.
Griffin said she was relieved Crites was no longer in the neighborhood.
"I think it's crazy, but I'm glad he's gone," Griffin said. "He always made me worry, especially because I have smaller kids who live here, too."
Robert Molnar and his wife, Denise, live in the duplex next to the Crites. Their home wasn't damaged by the fire, but Robert said the negative attention is an unfortunate tarnish on the neighborhood.
"This is a peaceful neighborhood, mostly seniors, and they don't like this kind of stuff," Molnar said. "It makes people nervous, as it should."