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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. 

George Murphy March 01, 2014 at 04:37 AM
Now all of you guys from the GREAT mid-America, I know what you're up against, living so close to Chicago because we live 50 miles south of New York City. Chicago is a wonderful city, which, and like our other great cities, has been injected with a poison over the past 50 to 60 years. Resorting to this killer, however, he was not so mentally disturbed as he was demon possessed. Don't let the enemy fool you on this one. The more we use mentally ill, or mentally disturbed, the more the devil can have all focus placed elsewhere.
Bonnie March 01, 2014 at 10:07 AM
As for the people asking why this story is on their local patch. All newspaper and news outlets post stories from around our country, I live in CT one town away from Newtown, wasn't the horrible story from Sandy Hook elementary school on your local patch? Yes, it was on every news channel as well as in every newspaper. Stories like this one are posted to make everyone aware of what's happening in this crime ridden country. This is a sad sad story, my heart goes out to the mom of this 5 year old. Is the mom the daughter of the two grandparents? The sister of the shooter aka coward? Took the easy way out, killed himself... Senseless... Why take the lives of his parents and that boy? Just shoot yourself if your life is that bad....
George Murphy March 01, 2014 at 10:25 AM
Thank you, Bonnie! Perfectly stated :)
mplo March 01, 2014 at 10:30 AM
Unfortunately, unregulated guns and mentally unstable people ARE a HUGE part of the problem. Guns and mentally unstable people make an extremely dangerous combination. Sorry for the death of the 5 year old boy and his family. It's unfortunate. As for the person who claims that guns are NOT the problem and that the killer could've easily taken a steak knife and committed all those murders, that's totally irrelevant, and a lot of rubbish. Guns are way easier than knives--one just has to pick up a gun, aim, pull the trigger, and fire at the person(s)...from a distance. I also might add that steak knives are designed for cutting steak, while guns are a weapon of war that're designed to kill or maim other human beings. I also might add that the chances of recovering from a stab would can be and sometimes are a little better, depending on the depth and area of the stabbing. A life, all too often, however, is either ended or adversely and irrevocably altered when one aims his/her gun and pulls the trigger.
Lowercase M March 01, 2014 at 11:03 AM
For those confused on the whole "trending" thing and why this isn't strictly a local news piece, a quick explanation: trending in this case describes what's currently making the rounds in social media and the news. As for why the Patch is reporting on matters that are trending independent of their local relevance, a couple theories: 1) news is news regardless of its point of origin/area of effect and the Patch wants to do its journalistic duty and inform its community of the big newsworthy items; 2) there may not be enough news locally to make regular updates so syndicated content is a way of topping a publication off, in a manner of speaking; and/or 3) it's a way of getting its readership more engaged with the greater Patch community at large and more engaged, in general, by widening its point of focus to extend beyond the town lines.
Pam J March 01, 2014 at 12:26 PM
First, it would be helpful if they would put the "reply" back under each comment. Second, even the most "well-adjusted" human being can snap. How many times have we heard "but he seemed so normal" when someone hurts someone else? It's just so sad that this happened.
Marisol March 01, 2014 at 12:54 PM
I'm still trying to figure out how someone can shoot themselves in the face with a shotgun.
denise March 01, 2014 at 04:00 PM
My condolences to the family. Grew up on a ranch, trained how to shoot and hunt. Do not think there is any reason to keep a gun and ammo locked up in a "safe" in the house. Obviously, its not working - over and over. More people are hurt by guns their family possess than by the bad guys. How many people today need to hunt for their food? Grandpa had a choice between a few deer every year or a chance of miss use. When one chooses to have a gun/riffle and ammo it is a choice. If you own it…. Own it. The remaining family in this case live with the consequences. Two adults have a better chance w/ a knife than a riffle. Even a with sharp hunting knife! My sympathy and prayers for this innocent baby.
Brian Dzyak March 01, 2014 at 04:05 PM
Freedumb. :(
J. Parker March 01, 2014 at 05:08 PM
Drugs. : (
John B Taxpayer March 02, 2014 at 06:38 AM
Glad he Listened to "Genius" Joe Biden and used a shotgun!
Chowda Head March 02, 2014 at 07:48 AM
Where is this?;I'm in middletown RI ??
Social issues in Morristown Blog March 02, 2014 at 09:03 AM
http://socialissuesinmotown.blogspot.com/ please visit our blog
Bonnie March 02, 2014 at 10:32 AM
My personal opinion and yes I'm entitled to my own opinion is that guns don't kill people, people kill people. As some may say that guns don't have a purpose, well cars kill people, trains kill people, fires kill people, drugs kill people and people kill people. Yes cars are meant for driving, but they also kill people! How? People are driving those cars and for some reason they lose control of their car and kill others. Trains? They also have a person controlling them and yup they crash and kill people. Drugs... Well I don't think I need to state the facts there. Alcohol.. Yup same thing, people drink, get behind the wheel of a car and yup they crash and kill people. Do we ban all those things? Well my pistols protects my family as well as myself! I'm sure there were warnings in this situation as sad as it is, just like in Sandy Hook (Newtown), there were warning signs. We don't see the red flags until it is too late, families are too ashamed to admit that another family member is unstable, the society that we live in is too critical on those people whom are unstable. We label them as "crazy" or "nuts" so therefor everyone stays quiet. Wake up AMERICA... It's people behind everything that kills others, reach out to one another instead of turning your backs. Stand up and fight for your rights as an American citizen, speak up when you see something that's not right.
Denise Majko March 02, 2014 at 01:09 PM
I want to express my sympathy to the family of the 2 adults and the 5 year old child who were killed by another family member in Oak Lawn, Illinois. I hope, in time, the child's mother finds the strength to start each day with a cherished, happy memory of her child and that she not blame herself for leaving her child there overnight. I also hope the deputy fire chief, who inadvertently witnessed the suicide of the killer, is able to find some comfort as time passes and that his mind blurs the vision of that awful scene. Sadly for him, it was this witnessing, I would think, that allowed authorities to quickly sum up what had happened. I hope the mother and the deputy fire chief seek comfort, support and guidance from other family members, friends, grief counseling and spiritual leaders should they have one. It will be a good start on the road to healing.
mplo March 02, 2014 at 01:17 PM
Okay, Bonnie. You are entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts. The fact is that guns DO kill people, which is what they're specifically designed AND built for! The fact that there are so many unstable people out there is precisely why stronger, more affective gun laws are needed. Unfortunately, however, the NRA and the Gun Lobby have affectively bullied various lawmakers here in the United States out of passing more stringent, more affective gun laws, and, sadly, our lawmakers have allowed themselves to be bullied like that. I also might add that cars, unlike guns, are designed and built for transportation, not for killing people. The only reason that people are killed or seriously injured in motor vehicular accidents is that people do often abuse the privilege, and take innocent people down with them. Our society is too critical of people who are unstable? What's so wrong about saying that they shouldn't be allowed access to guns in the first place? Nothing, as far as I'm concerned. Granted, mental illness is a huge problem in our society, which needs badly to be addressed and tended to, but having so many unregulated firearms around makes an already-horrific situation worse. One also has to ask why mentally unstable people with anger management issues, a history of substance or alcohol abuse, or mental illness are NOT denied access to guns when the names of such people come up on gun dealers' computer screens. Our guns need to be more regulated, as does the manufacture of firearms, as well.
Gregory Urbach March 02, 2014 at 01:59 PM
I own two revolvers and a rifle. They are handled in a responsible manner, but many weapons are not handled responsibly, and society has an obligation to monitor these abusers. The NRA is not a benevolent organization and should not be setting policy, especially when they support a right for criminals to own semi-automatic weapons. Unfortunately, sad situations like these murders will continue. Keeping guns away from crazy people would help, but the problem is a lot larger than that.
Tom Rossing March 02, 2014 at 02:42 PM
SA - I guess I could resort to calling you a redneck Republitard since we are going to denigrate the president, but I wouldn't stoop to you level of ignorance.
A CL Resident March 02, 2014 at 02:50 PM
To those that ask about the increase in crime in our society, there are two major factors that just don't get the attention they deserve: side effects from mood altering drugs (i.e. antidepressants, etc) and the desensitization of violence and crime through video games. Big Pharma will never allow the side effects discussion to become mainstream media material.
J. Parker March 02, 2014 at 03:38 PM
Yup, it's DRUGS. Let's put more of them out there folks, and you will see what is happening to our society. Those that think they're so smart legalizing marajuana..... Hasn't anyone noticed the crazy speeders on the highways? Just yesterday afternoon, I saw one near get killed and kill others. Anyone driving without mood altering DRUGS wouldn't drive that way. And he wasn't the only one.flying down the road cutting in and out at high speeds. It's scary on the roads anymore, let alone in your own home ! One doesn't need a gun to kill others, but one sure does need one to protet themselves.
steve forte March 02, 2014 at 04:03 PM
A cl res . Great reasons, only thing is crime rates are actualy decreasing.
Bonnie March 02, 2014 at 04:16 PM
@jparker I fully agree with you! Those that think the gun owners have them to hunt people are just ignorant and refuse to admit that! I live 15 minutes from Cheshire where the Petit family was tortured, I'm thinking that the husband/father now owns a gun to protect his new family. Not saying that the murderer in this case is similar to those in the Cheshire killings but those two were criminals that were out of jail on an early release and look what they were capable of... Disgraceful! I am a mother of 2 teenage daughters, I am a wife, I have my pistol permit legally! I wish the gov't would make it mandatory that every person take a gun safety course, I'm thinking a lot of people would change their minds and their point of view on how they are dead set against law abiding citizens owning guns for protection. If criminals that are released from prison can get their hands on guns I sure want to protect my family from 2 thugs breaking into my home to torture my family. The problem in this country is that people do not educate themselves or their children about guns. My daughters go to the range, my girls know the power of a gun so this way they never wonder what a gun can do, they will never question "what does this do and how does it work?" Many people are quick to blame a bullet but not the person behind the bullet. And to think there's a new pain med coming out on the market, it's just a "legal" form of herion, that's someone I want driving a car behind me or driving down a busy road near a school when the children are getting out crossing the street. The Gov't in this country needs to wake up, go after the real problems we have here.
George Murphy March 02, 2014 at 04:56 PM
When the Lord admonished the "elite" of the day with, "You hypocrites, you strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel," He was not referring to guns, or drugs, or knives. It is about our wonderful selves. He also stated elsewhere, "Even the stork knows her appointed season, but man does not know my ways." In other words, whilst everything in this creation is functioning in the way it was intended to function, mankind is (and has always been) marching to an entirely different drummer. We have been given the extra rope; in turn, we hang ourselves in the long run. A.k.a., unfaithful stewards of the great gift of life! There are always those in these conversations who will discount this as bogus. To those I say: All other approaches to rectifying these situations have, and continue to fail, miserably! Do you have a better solution? Resorting to the first paragraph of this posting, we tend to carry on about less-important matters, all the while ignoring the pertinent ones: E.g., The Lindsay Lohan nonsense fogs the seriousness of our border security. This is just one of many, many similar situations.
J. Parker March 03, 2014 at 01:19 AM
Bonnie, I wish you well. Our government has been hi-jacked.
big bri March 04, 2014 at 04:59 PM
It's scary to think Bonnie and half the other ignorant dummies on here have guns.
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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