U.S. Army veteran Paul Marino and his wife, Lidia, visited the grave of their son, Anthony, at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear almost every day for the past three years.
“It was like a regimen. Mom and Dad visited my brother’s grave every single day, without fail, unless there was inclement weather. They usually went there in the morning,” the couple’s son, Ray Marino, 60, said Wednesday.
The daily graveside visits served as a touchstone for the elderly Elkton, Md., couple – each day was another opportunity to express how deeply they loved Anthony and how heartbreakingly they missed him.
The couple would stand at the grave for 10 minutes or so. Sometimes they left fresh flowers; other times, they simply talked to their deceased son. “Hey, Anthony, Mom and Dad are here,” they would say.
Last week, however, that touching ritual turned tragic, when the Marinos were fatally shot just yards from Anthony’s grave in what appears to be a random act of violence.
Paul, 86, and Lidia, 85, were on the veterans cemetery grounds on the morning of May 8 to visit Anthony’s gravesite, as they had done perhaps 1,000 times before since their youngest son was laid to rest there in 2017.
At approximately 10:15 a.m. that day, a gunman randomly shot and killed the couple – sharply contrasting the tranquility of that cemetery.
Receiving the horrible news
The Marino couple’s daily ritual of visiting Anthony’s grave was so well-known among friends of Ray and his twin brother, Paul Jr., that, when news broke of the shootings, concerned loved ones reached out to alert the twin brothers.
A close friend called Ray, knowing that the twin brothers’ parents typically visited Anthony’s graveside in morning, which is when the reported shootings had occurred. Ray, in turn, called his parents’ phone, but they did not answer.
Shortly thereafter, another one of his close friends learned that Paul Sr. was one of the victims in the cemetery shootings through his wife, who works at Christiana Hospital in Delaware, where Paul Sr. had been taken. That close friend picked up Ray at work, after calling him to break the horrible news, and drove him to the hospital.
Employed by a company in Delaware, where he is a maintenance manager, Paul Jr. was at work when a coworker asked if he had heard the breaking news about shootings at a cemetery in that state.
“I asked which one and when he told me, I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ I kept calling them, but I was getting no reply,” Paul Jr. said, adding, “I went into my office and started watching all of the news about it.”
Paul Jr. saw an aerial photo of the cemetery grounds, surrounded by scores of law enforcement officers and emergency vehicles, and it hit him hard.
“I could see my dad’s station wagon parked at the cemetery. Then I knew,” he said.
Then Paul Jr.’s wife called him, after she had been contacted by a Christiana Hospital spokesperson who reported that Paul Sr. had just arrived at the medical center, having suffered a gunshot wound.
“I asked, ‘Where’s my mom?,’” Paul Jr. said, recalling his reaction after arriving at the hospital to see his dad, prompting a nurse to gently answer, “She’s no longer with us.”
Lidia was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting last Friday, just two days before Mother’s Day. Her husband died from his gunshot wound at Christiana Hospital on Saturday.
“My parents were in their 80s, but they were very healthy and active. They had five or 10 more years of good life left, I’m sure,” Ray said. “I thought they would die from natural causes someday – not be executed by a stranger in a cemetery.”
Paul Jr. and Ray have so many questions about how and why their parents were gunned down, but, knowing that this was a random act of violence, they have resigned themselves to the fact that some answers will never come.
“I’ve been trying to figure all this out in my head, but there are some things we are just never going to know,” Ray said.
Delaware State Police officials identified Sheldon C. Francis, 29, of Middletown, Del., as the gunman who inexplicably ended the lives of Paul and Lidia Marino. But as of Thursday, investigators had not released a motive.
Francis died from an apparent gunshot wound near the scene of the shootings, but investigators have not said whether that fatal wound was self-inflicted or if it was one he had suffered during an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers.
Officers found Francis’ body in a wooded area near the cemetery at approximately 4 p.m. last Friday, some six hours after he had fired the deadly shots at Paul and Lidia Marino.
Paul Jr. and Ray cannot determine if their parents were able to visit Anthony’s grave one last time before they died.
“They were shot halfway between the cemetery entrance and Anthony’s burial plot, so we don’t know if they were coming or going,” Ray said.
The man who killed the twin brothers’ parents reportedly possessed a scoped rifle at the time but, according to information that DSP investigators provided the family, Francis apparently shot them with a handgun at relatively close range.
“He came up behind them, pulled out a handgun and did his thing. He shot our dad in the back of the head and then he shot our mom,” Ray outlined. “We don’t know if he shot our mom first in front of our dad or if he shot our dad first in front of our mom. We don’t even know if they saw him.”
Paul Jr. said he and his brother have not learned from DSP investigators where the bullet or bullets struck their mother.
The day after the shootings, Paul Jr. visited the cemetery.
“I just wanted to see where my parents got shot,” he explained, noting that a groundskeeper approached him, wanting to know why he was there. “When I told him my parents were the people who got shot, the groundskeeper said he knew my parents, that they talked to him every time they saw him at the cemetery. He was very upset by what happened.”
That groundskeeper relayed to Paul Jr. that he and coworkers had returned to the cemetery that morning after taking a break and they noticed the Marinos’ familiar station wagon, as well as an unfamiliar vehicle parked nearby.
“They heard ‘pop, pop, pop,’ and then they saw a man in a black hoodie running across the grass,” Paul Jr. said.
DSP officials gave Paul Jr. and Ray the watch their dad was wearing when he was shot. It was a gift from his company when he retired in 1994.
“We picked up the watch. The watch stopped at 10:15. It won’t move,” Ray said.
Paul and Lidia meet
Paul and his future wife, Lidia, met in a rather convoluted way back in the 1950s.
Eleven years his senior, Paul’s brother, Vincent, served in the U.S. Army during World War II and he was stationed in Italy, where he met his future wife – Lidia’s older sister, Emily – and her family.
“Our mom was a girl in a town in Italy during World War II. She remembered the German soldiers coming through her hometown,” Ray said, before commenting disdainfully, “She survived all of that, and then she gets killed at a cemetery close to her home while visiting her son’s grave.”
Lidia, who was born in Italy on March 25, 1935, also remembered Vincent and other U.S. soldiers showing up in her hometown and giving her candy, the Marino brothers said.
A young teenager at the time, Lidia and her family immigrated to the United States after the war because Emily and Vincent planned to marry, which they did, and to settle in New York.
The son of Italian immigrants, Paul Marino was born on Jan. 27, 1934, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he also was raised and lived for a few decades.
Through the courtship and marriage of Paul’s older brother and Lidia’s older sister, Paul and Lidia met each other. That led to a romance between Paul and Lidia and their wedding in 1958.
Their life together
Paul Marino served as a peacetime U.S. Army soldier in the 1950s, before receiving an honorable discharge.
In 1974, the Marino family moved from Poughkeepsie to Elkton, where they lived in the Holly Hall development, a middle-class neighborhood in the southern part of the town’s jurisdiction.
“We were a very close family,” Ray said.
Paul worked several decades in the printing industry as a lithograph printer before retiring in 1994. He was an accomplished photographer, whose other hobbies included painting, woodburning, playing guitar, and another activity – sort of a running joke in family.
“Our dad loved to play the lottery. Dad would always joke that he was going to win big someday,” Ray chuckled.
Paul also loved to cook steaks on the grill.
During their marriage, Lidia was a homemaker and a seamstress who enjoyed needlepoint and cooking.
“They had so many talents,” Paul Jr. said.
They were known for their generosity, too.
“My mom would make a big pot of soup or pasta, and she would give some to our neighbors. She would give some to her doctor, to her dentist, whoever,” Ray recalled.
And they were known for their love of people, specifically the everyday interaction with family, friends and even strangers.
“Our parents talked to anybody,” Paul Jr. said.
A lifetime of caregiving
A constant throughout the past five decades was the Marinos’ devotion to caring for their youngest son.
Born with cerebral palsy, Anthony still was able to earn an architectural drafting degree from Delaware Technical Community College and reach other milestones, before his condition led to a series of mini-strokes and other medical complications later in life.
His parents cared for Anthony throughout his life, with the periodic help of Ray and Paul Jr.
During the last two years of Anthony’s life, however, when he needed help to shower, brush his teeth and perform other basic tasks, the Marino twins rallied around their parents at their Elkton home, taking shifts to keep their brother comfortable.
The family effort enabled Anthony to remain at home, instead of winding up in a care facility.
“Anyone who thinks they have it bad should have met my brother. He always had a smile on his face, no matter what was going on with him,” Paul Jr. said. “He was amazing.”
Anthony died on March 15, 2017, at age 54.
Although he did not serve in the military, his parents were permitted to bury him in the veterans cemetery because under cemetery rules, one burial plot can be designated for a veteran’s minor child or an adult child with disabilities, as well as a spouse.
Anthony was laid to rest in a plot beside the future gravesites of his parents.
A sad reminder
Ray, who is a senior maintenance technician in the molding department of a local company, and Paul Jr. have made funeral arrangements for their parents.
Because of the extraordinarily tragic way Paul and Lidia Marino were killed, cemetery officials waived the $500 fee for the interment of Lidia.
Cemetery officials also have volunteered to make other special arrangements for the surviving Marinos, an example of some of the support the public has given the family.
“The Delaware attorney general called both of us to tell us how heartbroken she was,” Ray said, adding that he and his brother sense that the slaying of their parents on what are typically serene cemetery grounds has touched many people in the community.
The date and time of those services were not publicized in their parents’ Cecil Whig obituary, which indicated that the funerals would be private. Paul and Lidia will be laid to rest beside Anthony’s graveside – the one the elderly couple faithfully visited for three years.
Paul Jr. and Ray are aware that they will have to face a powerful, sad reminder during the upcoming graveside services to celebrate the lives of their parents.
The twin brothers also are certain that the same chilling reminder will be present every time they come to the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery to visit the gravesites of their parents, as well as that of their younger brother.
“We have to bury mom and dad where they were murdered,” Paul Jr. said. “A cemetery is supposed to be a peaceful and sacred place where you visit your lost loved ones.”