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Trending: 5-Year-Old's Birthday Party Becomes Tragedy in Illinois

The 5-year-old boy decided to spend the night with his grandparents. Police say his uncle shot everyone to death that night.

Investigators look for bodies in the charred ruins of a home on 51st Avenue, after a man allegedly shot three family members and set the house on fire before taking his own life.
Investigators look for bodies in the charred ruins of a home on 51st Avenue, after a man allegedly shot three family members and set the house on fire before taking his own life.

By Lorraine Swanson

The Medical Examiner’s Office said three Oak Lawn family members whose bodies were found in a charred ranch home early Wednesday morning died of gunshot wounds. 

John Conta Sr. suffered multiple gunshot wounds when Oak Lawn firefighters pulled his body from the hallway of his burning ranch home in the 9800 block of South 51st Avenue. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office did not provide his exact age, but said he was in his 60s.

Conta Sr.’s wife, Janice, 68, and the couple’s grandson, Matthew Meier, 5, were both shot in the head. Their bodies were not discovered until late afternoon Wednesday after investigators spent hours combing through the destroyed home's fire debris and found them in the basement.

Family members gathered in the home Tuesday evening to celebrate Matthew’s fifth birthday. His mother left later in the evening and Matthew stayed behind to spend the night at his grandparents’, Oak Lawn Police Division Chief Michael Kaufmann said.

John Conta Jr. is believed to have gunned down his family sometime after the boy's mother left and then set the house ablaze with gasoline.

Before Wednesday morning, police never had cause to visit the Conta home on 51st Avenue, described by neighbors as meticulously maintained by the elder Conta.

Conta Jr. taught overseas and spent time in Russia as a potato farmer, and was reportedly living at his parents' house.

“The family said he had changed a bit when he returned from overseas,” Kaufmann said, “but not enough to bring us to a conclusion as to his mindset.”

He took his own life in the home’s garage in front of an off-duty, Oak Lawn deputy fire chief who arrived on the scene to offer his assistance.

Police said when the deputy fire chief went to open a car door parked in the garage, the younger Conta shot himself in the face with a shotgun. The medical examiner ruled Conta Jr.’s death a suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The house fire burned fiercely for several hours before firefighters were able to knock down the blaze. Both the home’s roof and first floor collapsed into the basement by the time the fire was extinguished.

“The state fire marshal said the fire was started in the basement,” Kaufmann said. “A gas can was recovered in the area of the house where the floor did not collapse.”

Kaufmann said a gun locker with various weapons inside was recovered by a demolition crew Thursday morning.

“We believe the father was a hunter and had weapons in a safe,” he said. “[Conta Jr.] may have taken a shotgun and used it on the people inside the house.”

Trending on Patch is a category showcasing popular stories from across Patch's network of 900 local news sites. 

big bri March 04, 2014 at 05:01 PM
J. Parker... you're the biggest idiot on here. Learn how to spell, you big dummy. If this governments been hijacked it's the best thing that could happen to your dumb @zz.
Bonnie March 04, 2014 at 05:29 PM
@big Bri.... I'm an ignorant Dummy? Please explain your comment... I've clearly written that my comment is MY opinion, no one needs to agree nor do I expect everyone to agree. I just think that IF people would become educated and stop blaming the "guns" for these senseless murders people would understand the issues at hand. The triggers do not pull themselves, phones do not text themselves when cars crash into another one and alcohol does not pour itself into ones mouth before the driver gets behind the wheel of a car and kill innocent people. People kill people, people are behind every senseless death. It all could be avoided by educating people. If people would follow the laws that are made then people would still be alive. So please explain your comment that you made towards me because it sure sounds like you're calling me a dummy.... How do you get to that conclusion?
J. Parker March 04, 2014 at 08:44 PM
Apparently big bri is on drugs ! I don't own a gun, but perhaps I should if there's his kind out there !!
Amie Sue March 05, 2014 at 02:53 AM
God forbid you print your opinion huh Bonnie? As for gun violence, I totally agree with Bonnie. Name calling never settles an argument, it just makes the name caller come off as a bully. If you don't want a gun, don't buy one. Gun laws have NOT kept guns out of criminal's hands. If a crazed, mentally disturbed individual wants to find a gun, they will. Do you think our drug laws have kept them off the streets, and from people from doing those drugs? NO, they have not. Our media and government seem to only enjoy publicize gun deaths, because that's what fits their anti-gun owning agenda. It has obviously worked since SO many people actually believe that guns are only made for murderers who desire to kill people. We own guns to protect our family, our home, our property, and our possessions from these predators. My husband teaches gun safety and takes our sons out target shooting. If you don't want a gun, don't buy one, but don't complain about the people who own them, the life they save someday may be yours. J. Parker, buy a gun before your government tells you you can't. You too Big Bri. I respect all of your opinions, and will never call people names that I disagree with. Guns are for protecting yourself, not for just "killing people" as mplo's states as his chosen "facts." If a citizen doesn't want to protect themselves or their family from any predator, wild animal, rapist, burglar, or intruder, then just BE a victim and don't buy a gun. Call the police and wait for them to arrive..... WITH a big gun to rescue you. Good LUCK!
Jean Fairchild March 28, 2014 at 10:27 AM
"Rest in Peace Michael"

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