Questions, theories and just plain guesses are swirling about what happened at 1105 Mohawk Street on Feb. 5, the night three people in their 20s were slain there.
Christopher Vasata faces three counts of first-degree murder as well as charges for other felonies in the shooting deaths of Kelli J. Doherty, 20, of Tequesta, Brandi El-Salhy, 24, of Gainesville and Sean P. Henry, 26, of Jupiter. Charles Vorpagel, 27, who rented the house, was arrested Feb. 9 on a federal firearms charge.
The probable-cause affidavit says “three or four people appeared and began shooting.”
Through interviews and reviews of documents, The Post has learned that law enforcement narrowly missed apprehending at least one other suspect, besides Vasata, on the night of the murders.
With suspects still on the loose — and Jupiter police remain tight-lipped about the case — the investigation remains an edgy topic, Mayor Todd Wodraska said.
“Every public meeting I go to, that’s the first thing people talk about. This happened in the heart of old Jupiter. This has really shaken residents’ confidence,” said Wodraska, a lifelong town resident.
Among the many puzzle pieces, here are seven key ones:
1. Who shot Christopher Vasata?
Vasata was shot twice in the lower back and buttocks, apparently at the murder scene. A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy saw Vasata getting out of the back seat of a dark-colored, four-door sedan on the 100 block of Paseos Way and collapsing on the street.
The injuries required surgery, and Vasata was hospitalized for more than six weeks at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach before he was arrested Monday at the hospital.
Vasata’s police report gives no indication of who shot him. Speculation immediately following the murders was that Vorpagel may have exchanged gunfire with the assailants. Among the weapons federal investigators said Vorpagel kept in the home were high-powered, semi-automatic rifles.
But the arrest report states that Vorpagel ran away as soon as the shooting broke out. He jumped over a fence then tried to get a neighbor’s assistance before hiding as the killers fled the house.
Vorpagel was taken to Jupiter Medical Center suffering from shock, indicating that he might have been too shaken to engage in a shootout.
A more likely explanation is that Vasata was shot accidentally by one of the masked men who accompanied him to Vorpagel’s home. All of the shell casings found at the murder scene, according to the arrest report, belonged to a pair of guns found by police and likely belonging to the suspects.
2. How did the gunmen reach 1105 Mohawk Street?
The “three or four” masked gunmen that Vorpagel told police committed the shooting likely arrived at the home by car. Whether they arrived and left in one or more vehicles has not been determined. Did the gunmen arrive and leave in separate vehicles, going in different directions?
Cars are not the only way the gunmen could have reached the home, which sits on a narrow canal. A theory proposed by residents — not police — is that the gunmen arrived by boat and left either in one or separate vehicles.
Many homes along the canal — 20-30 feet wide and lined with mangroves — on the north side of Mohawk Street have docks. The canal has access to the Loxahatchee River, the Burt Reynolds Park boat ramp, the Jupiter Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. There is also kayak access at the southwest corner of Indiantown Road and Melaleuca Lane at the Jones Creek Preserve, northeast of Mohawk.
But navigating the canal would require an experienced boater, especially at night.
When officers questioned him at St. Mary’s Medical Center, Vasata said he walked the half-mile to Vorpagel’s house from the house on South Delaware Boulevard in which he was living. Vorpagel told police Vasata was “not there as an invited guest” at the Mohawk Street house.
3. Was Sean Henry’s Honda a getaway car?
Sean Henry’s Honda Accord was stolen from the driveway of the Mohawk Street house that night. The car was found 8:30 the next morning one mile north of Northlake Boulevard on the south side of Interstate 95. That’s 11 miles south of the site of the slayings.
Police discovered blood stains in the front and back seats. Two firearms – at least one of which matched the shell casings from the back yard — and the keys to a black 2004 BMW linked to Vasata were found in a nearby culvert. A blood-stained pillow was found in the vehicle.
So was a single black glove, police said.
Vorpagel told investigators he saw a car pull out of his driveway as he hid from the gunmen that night. He later realized Henry’s car was missing.
Jupiter police said they cannot confirm the dark sedan deputies saw Vasata get out of was Henry’s Honda. Several questions arise if they are the same car. Did the gunmen find Henry’s keys during the shooting or did they hotwire the Honda? If they used his keys, where did they find them? Did one of the gunmen know Henry?
4. How close did authorities come to catching Vasata’s accomplice(s)?
At 10:40 p.m., about six minutes after Jupiter Police received the first 911 calls, a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy spotted a dark-colored, four-door sedan being driven erratically about one mile from the crime scene.
The deputy attempted a traffic stop, but the driver fled.
Following Sheriff’s Office policy, the deputy did not launch a high-speed pursuit because there was no evidence the driver had committed anything more serious than a traffic violation.
The deputy got close enough to the sedan on the 100 block of Paseos Way to see Vasata get out the rear driver’s side door of the vehicle then collapse in the middle of the street, according to the arrest report. The sedan driver then fled.
The deputy stopped on Paseos Way to help the injured Vasata. It wasn’t until he realized that Vasata had been shot that the deputy learned he was involved in something bigger than a motorist running a stop sign or driving recklessly.
A second deputy attempted to track down the sedan, but it was lost from view while traveling west on Indiantown Road toward Interstate 95.
5. What was Chris Vasata’s story?
According to the police report, Vasata said before he went into surgery for his wounds that he had been shot by unknown people at “a buddy’s house,” and that he was outside the house when he was shot. He did not identity the “buddy.”
Vasata said he was pulled into a vehicle after he was shot and dropped off where officers found him. He did not specify by who.
Much of Vasata’s story remains curious. A black 2004 BMW was found parked next to the spot on Paseos Way where Vasata was found. The BMW had been leased to Vasata several months before the shooting, police said. There is nothing in the police report indicating Vasata lived on Paseos Way.
A loaded magazine for a .40-caliber Glock handgun and a single stray “Perfecta” were found in Vasata’s shorts, police said.
So was a single black glove – just like at Henry’s Honda.
6. What was the motive?
In criminal law, motive must be established before guilt can be determined. So what caused masked gunmen, allegedly including Vasata, to storm the home at 1105 Mohawk St. and execute three possibly innocent victims?
Robbery doesn’t appear to be a likely.
The details of a search warrant served at the home revealed that six guns — including two high-powered semi-automatic rifles — and a stash of drugs ranging from cocaine to hash oil were found at the home after the murders.
All the victims were wearing jewelry when their bodies were found, according to the search warrant. Investigators also seized several items, including a wallet and $128 cash that belonged to Henry, El-Salhy’s wallet and keys and Doherty’s purse. An iPad and cellphones were also recovered.
Retribution appears a more likely motive, considering that two of the principles in the case have criminal drug histories.
Vorpagel, whose father rented the home, admitted to investigators he sold drugs from the house and that he worked with another person to buy and sell firearms.
Vasata has a history of drug arrests. He served more than a year in prison after being convicted in January 2014 of buying $36,000 worth of marijuana he intended to sell.
7. Up to three killers are still on the loose. Is Jupiter safe?
Jupiter Police Chief Frank Kitzerow has met with groups of residents of Jupiter River Estates, the larger neighborhood that contains Mohawk Street, since the Feb. 5 shooting.
“I told them Jupiter is a safe community. We are working diligently on the case. I told them the work is meticulous. It takes time build a case. We are following every lead,” said Kitzerow.
Kitzerow declined to answer specific questions, saying the investigation isn’t finished.
The shootings have stoked fear in the neighborhood. Many who live nearby would not answer their doors. Most of those who did would not give their names. Not one member of Vasata’s Jupiter High School volleyball team responded to a reporter’s invitation to talk about his former classmate.
Tom Peterson, a three-year resident of Jupiter River Estates, said residents are concerned that three or four masked gunmen may still be on the loose.
“We were happy to hear about the arrest (of Vasata). We’re a little nervous about those shooters still being out there,” said Peterson.
Peterson still takes his regular walks with his two dogs. He sits outside his home near Jupiter River Estates Park. He feels safe, he said.
“I understand why Jupiter police are tight-lipped about the investigation. We all want them to get to the bottom of this,” said Peterson.
“People feel relief there has been an arrest. Now, let’s arrest the other ones still out there,” said Wodraska, a lifelong resident of Jupiter.
Jennifer Foster, a 13-year resident of Jupiter River Estates, said life is slowly getting back to normal in the neighborhood east of Maplewood Drive between Indiantown Road and Toney Penna Drive, near Jupiter Christian School.
“I still get jolted when I hear fireworks go off at night. People like to shoot them off around here. But I feel safe. I’m happy for the families that there has been an arrest,” Foster said.