ABINGTON — A couple and their three young children were found dead from gunshot wounds in their townhouse here Monday in what authorities described as a horrific tragedy that left grief-stricken relatives searching for answers.
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz identified the couple as Deirdre Zaccardi, 40, and Joseph Zaccardi, 43. The children were Alexis, 11, and twins Nathaniel and Kathryn, who had just turned 9.
A relative who came by to take the children to school called 911 around 7:30 a.m. after finding the body of Deirdre Zaccardi downstairs, Cruz said. Police found the four other bodies elsewhere in the Centre Avenue home, part of an L-shaped condominium complex beside a busy road that runs through this South Shore suburb.
“Three little children are gone forever,’’ Cruz said at a morning news conference.
Cruz declined to say whether the deaths were a murder-suicide but described the shootings as an isolated incident. The couple had no known history of “any ongoing domestic issues,” he said.
“This is a horrible, horrible event,” Cruz said. “I think when something like this, unimaginable like this happens, there’s always going to be more questions than there are going to be answers.”
Abington Public Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer said in a letter to parents that the children attended the local schools.
“This morning we were informed of the unexpected and unexplainably tragic loss of the Zaccardi family,” Schafer wrote. “Their presence touched so many lives and there are no words to express the sadness we feel.”
In a statement, relatives said “our family has suffered an unfathomable loss.”
“As we attempt to make sense of the enormity of this event, we respectfully ask that the media respect our family’s wishes to be left alone as we grieve our tremendous losses in private,” they wrote.
Deirdre Zaccardi was a longtime employee of Boston’s EMI Strategic Marketing, company president Campbell Edlund said in a statement.
“Deirdre was a lovely person — a trusted employee and valued friend to all of us at EMI,” Edlund said. “We will miss her greatly. She’d been with us nearly two decades, as we grew from just a few people to nearly 50 — steadfast in her support through those years. Starting out as our receptionist, she became our office manager, managing everything from bookkeeping to onboarding every new employee.”
Zaccardi’s “welcoming smile, constant enthusiasm, sense of humor, and talent for organizing just about anything made her indispensable to the company, and to me personally,” Edlund said.
“Her deep commitment to her children, and the pride she took in their accomplishments, small and large, were part of many conversations. Just last week, she took Wednesday off for the twins’ birthday celebration. We are all shocked and saddened by this tragedy.”
Joseph Zaccardi had written on social media that he was the author of multiple children’s books.
At the Woodsdale Elementary School, Maxine Steel waited in her car for her granddaughter to be released. She did not know whether the youngster had heard about what had happened and planned on bringing her home and letting her parents — Steel’s son and daughter-in-law — have the conversation.
“My heart is broken, I can’t put it into words,” Steel said. “Right now, all I want to do is cry. I hope I can hold it together in front of her.”
Steel also worried about her older granddaughter in middle school.
“These children, they’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” she said.
In his note to parents, Schafer said faculty and staff at the middle and high school told students in small groups about the shootings. Younger children were not told about the tragedy, which he said “will affect the entire Abington community.”
“We felt that was best handled by families,” he said. “Counselors are and will be available throughout the district to help our students during and after school.”
Authorities said it appeared that the deaths were the result of gunshot wounds. The state medical examiner’s office will determine the official cause.
Investigators expected to find a gun somewhere in the home. Cruz declined to say whether either parent was a licensed gun owner.
“It’s a tragedy all the way around,” said Abington Police Chief David G. Majenski. “It’s just a horrific event that nobody should ever see.”
The complex was cordoned off Monday with crime scene tape that said “State Police Line — Do Not Cross.” Next door, neighbor Wes Cobb, 75, said he didn’t know the Zaccardi family personally but had occasionally seen the two younger siblings playing outside. When he saw crime scene tape Monday morning, he knew something was wrong.
“I was shocked to hear what happened,” he said.
Across the street, a neighbor said she didn’t know the victims but was stunned that anyone was capable of such brutality.
“It’s so sad,” she said, shaking her head from side to side. “I can’t believe it.”
In the evening, Kim Guiliani filled a mason jar with electric candle lights and small yellow flowers and walked down the street to the Zaccardi family’s home. She put down the jar, crossed herself, and clasped her hands in prayer. She didn’t know the family, but has lived in Abington her whole life and felt compelled to pay her respects.
“It just breaks my heart,” she said. “It breaks my heart that it had to be kids.”
John R. Ellement, Steve Annear, Mike Bello, and Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.