An 82-year-old Mahwah man called his daughter Friday morning to tell her he had just killed her mother and was going to turn the gun on himself, authorities said Friday.
When police arrived at the couple's Polo Lane home shortly after 8 a.m., they found 79-year-old Barbara Ellis downstairs with a gunshot wound to the "top of her head," Chief James Batelli said.
Her husband, Harry Ellis, was found lying facedown in the grass outside, suffering from what police believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The couple was pronounced dead around 10:40 a.m., in what authorities are calling a murder-suicide, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli confirmed Friday.
Mahwah Police were alerted to the scene by an early morning phone call from the couple’s daughter saying her father had called her to tell her he "had killed her mother, and was going to kill himself,” Batelli said.
A revolver with two spent shell casings was recovered at the scene, Batelli said.
Both victims were transported via ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital in NY, where they were pronounced dead, he said.
No one else was home at the time of the shooting, Batelli said.
Harry Ellis "had medical issues," Batelli said. "But, it was not the case where his death was imminent." Batelli said police believe he may have been suffering from Parkinson's Disease, but that has not been confirmed.
"Whether or not his health issues contributed to this incident is unknown," Batelli said. Ellis left no suicide note, and the couple had no history of domestic violence, Batelli said.
Barbara Ellis was a retired school nurse who worked for the Fort Lee school district from 1977 until she retired in June 2010, Fort Lee school officials said.
Ellis worked most recently at Fort Lee High School, but she spent most of her career as a nurse at Fort Lee School No. 4, according to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Sharon Amato, who knew Ellis well.
Amato described Ellis as “a very lovely person” who was “very, very dedicated.”
“I know that she was very devoted to her husband,” Amato said. “She had told me that he was ill a couple of years ago, and I know that she really struggled with that and was very devoted to helping care for him. I think that was what led to her retirement.”
Amato also said Ellis was "very well liked" by her colleagues, the students in the district and their parents.
“It’s really a huge loss and a terrible, really tragic thing,” Amato said.
Several neighbors said they heard shots ring out in the quiet development sometime after 8 a.m.
"I heard a big boom, boom, boom," said Steve Wagner, a neighbor on Polo Lane who said he knew the couple.
He said he wasn't immediately alarmed because residents in the neighborhood often hear gunshots "from people in the mountains...hunting. When I stepped outside for my morning walk and saw all the police activity...I got concerned."
Wagner said Barbara Ellis was "very active in the community."
He described the pair as a "nice, older couple," adding, "phone calls are flying back and forth between all of the neighbors this morning. We are all shocked."
Another neighbor, Eric Boe, who said Barbara Ellis was in his house about a month ago for a homeowner’s association meeting, was shocked to learn of the shooting. “I have no idea why this happened,” he said.
According to Batelli, the couple had two adult daughters, one of whom notified police of the shooting. They were "obviously very emotional" Friday, he said.
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Joseph M. Gerace contributed to this report.