by Clellie Allen
WAKE FOREST — The peaceful evening atmosphere of the Clearsprings subdivision on the eastern edge of Wake Forest, was shattered in a moment by shouts and gunfire, Friday, March 25. The result was the brutal murders of a couple and a grandmother, allegedly at the hands of the victims’ friend and neighbor.
Shortly before 6 p.m. Jonathan Frederick Sander, 52, reportedly burst into the home of Sandy and Stephenie Mazzella with a shotgun and murdered them, forcing a tragic end to what neighbors and friends say was a disintegrating friendship and business relationship.
Three other family members were reportedly in or around the home at the time of the shootings. The couple’s 14-year-old daughter locked herself in her room to hide from the violence and two others fled the home.
Calls made to 911 show a neighborhood immediately plunged into chaos and terror with the husband of 76-year-old Elaine Toby Mazzella frantically asking passersby for help for his wife, son and daughter-in-law.
Motorists, confused over what was happening, did not allow Salvatore Mazzella to get into their vehicles, but made calls into Raleigh-Wake 911.
“I don’t know if he is a suspect or anything,” said one caller. “[He] is saying somebody just shot his wife and his daughter-in-law. He flagged me down and told me to call 911 because his phone is not working.” She later added, “He said that [the shooter] was coming after him to shoot him now too.”
The Mazzellas’ 10-year-old son was at a friend’s house, but his older sister was caught up in the terror and called 911 herself.
“My parents have been shot! I saw my mom and dad ... you need to come right away! ... My neighbor’s crazy! He came right inside! You have to come here right now or they’re gonna die!” she frantically sobbed to the dispatcher.
Sandy Mazella’s brother was at the home as well and also called 911, reporting just after the shooting that none of the victims appeared to be alive.
“Is anybody breathing?” the emergency dispatcher asked him before asking if she could walk him through performing CPR.
“No. It was a shotgun. They’re done. ... They’re gone,” he said.
One neighbor reportedly jumped into his vehicle immediately after shots were heard and despite seeing a man with a shotgun, raced around to the front of the two homes, taking in Salvatore Mazzella and communicating to 911 for him.
“Guy’s got a shotgun. Male with a shotgun. And the gentleman here says his wife and his daughter’s been shot. So you better get an ambulance over here right away,” he tells the dispatcher just before Sheriff’s deputies arrived.
Salvatore can then be heard sobbing, “He killed my wife! He was friend of my son’s — the neighbors. My daughter-in-law and I think my son … (unintelligible).”
Deputies found Sander back in his home at 5917 Clearsprings Drive and a brief standoff ensued before he surrendered and was taken into custody.
A complicated path to tragedy
The Mazzellas and Sander reportedly had a long history together, blending friendship and business. According to Secretary of State documents, Sandy Mazzella was the president of Advanced Mowing and Landscaping Inc., a company he started in early 2009. It’s not clear what position Sander had in the company, but a business vehicle was in Sander’s driveway at the time of the shootings and he is referenced frequently on the company’s Facebook page, clearly doing work for the company.
Sander was also referred to as “Uncle Jon” by Stephenie Mazzella on Facebook. And the two families reportedly rented homes next to each other, because of their close relationship.
There was also a business partnership between Sander’s fiancée, Lori Botti, and Stephenie Mazzella. They were president and vice-president, respectively, of Advanced Patio & Landscape Inc. Stephenie Mazzella additionally worked as a medical intensive care nurse for WakeMed Hospitals.
But somewhere, it all took a downward turn.
On Feb. 25, Sandy Mazzella obtained a temporary restraining order against Sander, saying Sander had threatened him repeatedly through texts, phone calls and in person. He also told the court that Sander had come onto his property in the past with a gun.
Salvatore Mazzella followed suit the next day, obtaining a restraining order of his own, saying not only had Sander been threatening him, he’d also had a third person make threats against Salvatore Mazzella.
A continuance of both emergency restraining orders was granted on March 3.
March 2 court documents show Sander and Botti had filed a civil suit against Mazzella for $9,600 in money owed for two vehicles and furniture loans.
And on March 15, a customer filed a complaint for $3,750 against Botti and her company, after originally naming Jon Sander and Sandy Mazzella for the same claim Jan. 19.
The day before the shootings, Salvatore and Sandy Mazzella were back in court seeking a permanent restraining order against Sander. This time, Sander had an attorney represent him and was successful in having the order lifted.
The morning of March 25, a shouting match evidently erupted between the two families, and Wake County deputies were called to settle the dispute. Some of the Mazzellas’ friends reported on social media the family was preparing to move from the home when Sander allegedly attacked them Friday evening.
Stunned community helps
As many on social media were wondering how they could reach out to the Mazzella family, Laurel Gallion, a friend and co-worker of Stephenie set up a crowd-funding page to meet the immediate needs of the couple’s children. By Wednesday afternoon, a campaign that originally was set for $5,000 had raised just under $20,000.
Memorial arrangements have also been made. Visitation hours for Elaine, Sandy and Stephenie Mazzella are 4-8 p.m. tonight (Thursday, March 31) at Bright Funeral Home, 405 S. Main St., Wake Forest.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, April 1) at Richland Creek Community Church, 3229 Burlington Mills Road, Wake Forest.