The American Red Cross medical director at the center of a horrifying Las Vegas murder-suicide was worried his girlfriend was planning to leave him before he killed her, their infant son and the family dog last week, a friend of his tells PEOPLE.
Las Vegas police were called to the home of John Lunetta and Karen Jackson on Monday night, where they found everyone dead inside. Authorities believe that Lunetta shot and killed Jackson, their son, John Jr., and the dog before turning the gun on himself.
Police reportedly said that they had been dead for at least a day before their bodies were discovered.
Samira Knight, a family law attorney, says she has known Lunetta, 40, since 2013. She says he had talked about the possibility that Jackson, 34, would end their relationship and take their son.
John Jr. would have turned 1 on Wednesday, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“I didn’t know how bad it was,” Knight says. “I just knew then he was concerned she would actually leave and take the kid. I knew that part, and that is why he came to see me.”
“I still can’t wrap my head around what happened,” she says.
Jackson’s mother, Patricia McMullen, told the Review-Journal that her daughter was indeed going to leave Lunetta.
“My daughter was a wonderful human being, she was a go-getter,” said McMullen, whom PEOPLE could not reach. “She had dreams in her life and she accomplished her dreams.”
Knight says the couple met in 2015 and Jackson moved into Lunetta’s home a short time later.
Jackson, who served in the Air Force and was preparing to become a family nurse practitioner, didn’t talk a lot about Lunetta, her mom told the Review-Journal.
A Vegas police spokesman told the newspaper that they were called in December about a custodial issue involving Lunetta and Jackson, but there had been no accusations of violence. (Police were not immediately available for comment to PEOPLE.)
“I am not defending what he did,” says Knight, Lunetta’s friend. “What he did was bad.”
Still, she struggles with the facts of the murder-suicide because they contrast with the man she thought she knew — someone she describes as kind and intelligent and ecstatic to be a father, but who was also “depressed and tired.”
“I don’t want people to think he is this evil domestic-violence monster,” she says. “He is not that.”
But they also mentioned rumors that Jackson’s daughter — who wasn’t home at the time of the killings — had said Lunetta was controlling and that there were many arguments between the couple, according to the Review-Journal. And residents said they recently saw a moving truck in front of the home, prompting them to wonder whether Jackson was moving out.
“This is deranged,” one neighbor told the paper. “He must have snapped,”
“She had to be trying to take the kid,” says Knight, who stressed she was not making excuses for Lunetta. “It is the only thing imaginable. I could see where he would lose it. As a friend, I could see the pain he would have endured. … I don’t know what else would have made him go that far.”
‘He Wanted to Be Perfect’
Knight says Lunetta sent her a text last Wednesday, just six days before the killings, asking her to call him.
“I didn’t think of it as an emergency and I was going to call him back on Monday,” she says. “On Monday, I was about to call him when I got a call from my friend [about the deaths].”
Knight says she saw signs of pressure in the couple’s relationship back in March, when Lunetta stopped by her office to ask her about custody agreements.
She says he was a smart and caring person but had a difficult childhood and may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after his time in the military. (He had reportedly worked as a doctor in the U.S. Army.)
He also went through a bout of depression after he found out he only had a 10 percent chance of conceiving a child, Knight says. But when Jackson got pregnant, he seemed overjoyed.
“He was like, ‘I can’t believe it,’ ” Knight recalls. “He was on cloud 30 about the kid.”
“John wanted to get married and have a family,” she says. “He wanted to be perfect.”
Perhaps that was the problem.
“It could have been he wanted this perfect life so much,” Knight says. “He holds everything in. I think everything he has been through, he just went from one to 100. Either he just couldn’t fight anymore or deal anymore. In my head, I could see that he just internally lost it.”