The deaths of two Fredonia State College faculty members in one day produced disbelief and sorrow Wednesday on the campus.
"Being a small community, this kind of thing affects a lot of people," Chautauqua County Coroner Daniel J. Newman said, referring to Tuesday's murder-suicide involving Joseph A. Maier, 54, of Shorewood Drive, Dunkirk, who police said strangled his elderly mother, then hanged himself.
"I've covered homicides before, but never a case like this. It's a tragedy. It's terrible. But no one really knows what happened between John and his mother, except John."
The impact on the Fredonia State community was compounded with the sudden death the same evening of another teacher, Ronald Warren, 51, a producer and director of instructional television programs.
He was on the staff of the Instructional Resources Center and taught courses in television production and news for the communication department.
Warren, a Southern Tier correspondent for WIVB-TV who has worked at the college since 1963, died of a heart attack at his home on Lakeview Avenue.
"It was a double whammy for us," said Christine Davis Mantai, associate director of community relations for the college, "and we're still in a state of shock."
She said she knew Maier, a music professor, only in a professional capacity but described him as "an outgoing, stable kind of guy that you could communicate with."
She added that when she first heard of the murder-suicide, she said, "I don't believe it."
"And I still didn't believe it until I checked it out for myself," she said.
Maier and Warren worked within a hundred yards of each other, Maier in the Mason Hall of Music and Warren in Thompson Hall, the Instructional Resources Center.
Ms. Mantai said the School of Music canceled classes Wednesday and postponed an evening concert by the Fredonia Percussion Ensemble.
Fredonia State President Donald MacPhee also has postponed the presentation of the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. The ceremony conferring the honor on John Croxton of the psychology department will be rescheduled.
"Both men were very popular and well-liked throughout the campus, and they are a real loss to us," Ms. Mantai said.
Maier reportedly picked up his 87-year-old mother, Louisa, at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the WCA Home, a retirement home for women in Fredonia.
Information pieced together from police officials and Newman, the coroner, indicate that sometime between the time he picked up his mother and 4 p.m., Maier strangled her with a rope.
Maier's wife, Arlene, an English teacher at Fredonia Middle School, returned to their split-level, redwood-shingled ranch home near Lake Erie and found her husband hanging from a rope tied to an overhead ceiling beam. A step ladder lay on its side nearby.
Several letters from Maier to members of his family apparently explained his reasons for suicide, but none contained any reference to his mother, sources said.
His wife contacted police, then went to the home of nearby friends.
The coroner said he arrived shortly after the call. He also confirmed that friends of the Maier family went back to the house about 7 p.m. after learning that Maier's mother had not returned to the WCA Home.
They found her body, covered with a blanket and the rope around her neck, on the front seat of the car.
Newman said he and police officials had no reason to search the rest of the house for any other indications of violence. "We were there on a suicide call," he said.
He said his report in both instances showed death by strangulation.
Cara Seeking, administrator of the WCA Home, said Louisa Maier had lived there since 1989.
"She was in good health, to the best of my knowledge," she said. "Her son was a regular visitor, and there was nothing unusual about taking his mother out for a day's visit. From all appearances, he was devoted to her and she to him. It was a great tragedy."
Maier, associate director of Fredonia's music department for 13 years, had been treated for chronic depression for at least a year, Newman said.
He said he did not know whether that contributed to the tragedy.