CLAYTON, N.J. (AP) — Something struck Toni Fiorella whenever she would see a mother from her hometown drop two teenage sons off at the laundromat to do the family’s wash. She didn’t know them by name, but they were always respectful. Their mother must be on to something, Fiorella thought.
“It’s good,” she said. “She’s making them responsible.”
Now, authorities say, those same boys are accused of killing a 12-year-old neighborhood girl and stuffing her body into a recycling bin near their home. Authorities say she was lured with the promise of new parts for the beloved bicycle she was riding before she disappeared.
Some of the 8,000 residents of Clayton saw the boys as Fiorella did, many others as troublesome teens with reputations for stealing bikes. But even some of those who saw a lawless side of the 15- and 17-year-old brothers have a hard time imagining them committing such a violent crime.
Sixteen-year-old Na’eem Williams, who described himself as a close friend of the 15-year-old, said that he knew the brothers to take bicycles but that it was a leap to think them capable of a horrendous crime.
“I know they didn’t do nothing like that,” he said. “I know they couldn’t, especially not with a young girl.”
Authorities have not discussed a motive and have not released the names of the brothers because they are charged as juveniles. The Associated Press is withholding them for the same reason.
Deputy Public Defender Jeffrey Wintner said his office was representing both defendants, though a private attorney had been assigned to handle one of the cases. He said the office would have no comment.
The boys were charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the death of Autumn Pasquale, a well-known and well-liked seventh-grader who disappeared Saturday afternoon in the town 25 miles south of Philadelphia. Her body was found Monday night in the recycling bin behind a vacant house next to the boys’ home.
Autumn’s mother, Jennifer Cornwell, told reporters Tuesday that she felt as though her daughter had been treated “like a piece of trash” because of where her body was recovered. The girl’s father, Anthony Pasquale, a postal worker in Clayton, said he is familiar with the family of the suspects.
“Everybody knows everybody,” in the town of 8,000, he said, “whether they’re friends or acquaintances.”
The boys, who have other brothers who are not charged in the case, were themselves seen at a vigil held Monday night for Autumn. The younger boy apparently exchanged messages with Autumn’s teenage brother on Facebook on Sunday.
The brother, A.J. Pasquale, wrote on his page that police, search dogs and the media were involved in the search. “thts good,” was the reply from an account that appeared to belong to the 15-year-old suspect.
People who know the boys say the younger suspect is a sophomore at Clayton High School and has been on the wrestling team. The older boy, they say, attends Bankbridge Developmental Center in Sewell, a school for students with social, behavioral and academic problems. He was seen outside the family’s home less often, neighbors say.
Beverly Davis said she went to school with Autumn’s father and the suspects’ mother.
“We are not surprised by who the suspects were,” Davis said. “We’re not surprised at all. They’re not always on the right side of the law.”
Davis said one boy stole one of her children’s bikes. And the boys’ father told the Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark that their sons were known for stealing bikes, and that one son had previously been charged with theft.
Naomi Sampson, 76, said that her family has had a home for a century half a block from the boys’ home — and that the boys’ family has lived there about as long. She saw the boys grow up, she said.
“We know they’re troubled,” she said.
But others who observed the boys found them to act the right way around adults, to smile and be courteous. Fiorella, for example, said she thought it was unusual to see two teenage boys doing laundry.
Authorities say their mother saw something in one of their Facebook postings that gave her cause to call police Monday. It was that call, officials said, that led investigators to the body and her sons.
She has not returned messages from the AP. The boys’ father told reporters that he has not seen the boys in a year and has not seen much of them in the past seven years or so.
The teens are due in court Friday for a hearing to determine whether they are to remain in custody. Prosecutors say they may ask that the case be moved to adult court.
Both boys are charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, disposing of a body, tampering with evidence and theft. The younger boy is also charged with luring, allegedly telling Autumn to come over to trade bike parts.
Funeral services for Autumn are set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Glassboro, following a public viewing at 8 a.m.
Associated Press writers Samantha Henry and Katie Zezima in Newark and Larry Rosenthal in Trenton contributed to this report.
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