Authorities say Richard Albert Nielsen, 62, shot 38-year-old Russell Allen Mitchell in front of the attendant window at the Murphy USA gas station on Carolina Beach Road in front of Wal-Mart. He then shot Jessica Lynn Modolo, 29, while she was in a vehicle with three children before turning the gun on himself, authorities said. Modolo, who was about four months pregnant, remains in critical condition. The baby died, according to police.
New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said surveillance footage shows the scene unfolding. At 3:55 p.m., Nielsen approached Mitchell and called out to him by name. As Mitchell turned around, Nielsen wielded a semi-automatic handgun and shot him once in the head at point-blank range.
Nielsen then shot Modolo in the head and abdomen as she sat in a vehicle at a gas station pump. Also in the car were Modolo’s 6-year-old son and Mitchell’s daughters, 9 and 7.
Nielsen then walked behind his own vehicle and fatally shot himself in the head. His body was found in a ditch by the gas station.
“This was an intentional, premeditated, targeted, deliberate act …, said District Attorney Ben David. “This was not a random act of violence and we have no reason to suspect that anyone is in further danger because of this.”
While David said looking for a motive is like chasing a ghost, he said it is clear that Nielsen, Mitchell and Modolo knew one another and were in some type of business relationship – a relationship that had gone sour.
On Feb. 5, Modolo filed a report with the Sheriff’s Office regarding stolen property totaling $4,126 at 810 Hiawatha Drive. The home is registered to a person with the last name of Mitchell. Russell Mitchell was on the deed of the property until October 2014.
“Mr. Nielsen was contacted about some property, which he had ultimately sold off – approximate value of $4,000,” David said. “The New Hanover Sheriff’s Office advised him to return that property and because he couldn’t, he knew that he faced potential criminal responsibility.”
David said Nielson had reached out to family members Friday morning, indicating that he, at 62 years old, would not be going to jail. Nielsen gave away his “earthly possessions,” including a debit card with PIN number.
At 3:05 p.m. Friday, Nielsen lawfully purchased a .380-caliber Ruger semi-automatic handgun from BullZeye Shooting Sports on Market Street, authorities said. Fifty minutes later, he would shoot Mitchell, Modolo and himself.
“It’s an ultimate act of cowardice for someone to take their life after taking someone else’s life …,” David said. “There are much better ways to resolve a property dispute than what we saw out here yesterday. Obviously, everyone has lost here, particularly and especially Mr. Nielsen, who not only took his life but will forever be branded as a double-murderer, and potentially worse. Because that’s exactly what he did.”
Nielsen had no criminal record, officials said. He was involved in a three-vehicle accident Jan. 6 on the Thomas Rhodes Bridge in Wilmington, according to a N.C. State Highway Patrol accident report and was cited for failure to reduce speed.
According to David, had Nielsen not fatally shot himself he would have faced two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and felony murder in addition to assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or inflict serious injury.
North Carolina adopted Ethen’s Law in 2011, making unborn children separate victims in violent crimes. Nielson would have faced murder charges for the deaths of both Mitchell and Modolo’s unborn child, David said.