CANFIELD - Police are searching for a Painesville Township man suspected of gunning down a high school science teacher whom he previously had been convicted of stalking.
Stacey Sutera, 40, was shot just after 7 a.m. Wednesday as she got in her car in the parking lot of the Carriage Hill apartment complex off Fairgrounds Boulevard.
Police say Robert McLaughlin, 64, of Painesville, fired several shots at Stacey Sutera just after 7 a.m. Wednesday as she got in her car in the parking lot of the Carriage Hill apartment complex off Fairgrounds Boulevard.
Police and Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents map out the scene where teacher Stacey Sutera, 40, was shot to death Wednesday morning in the parking lot of her Carriage Hill apartment complex in Canfield. A car that had the back window shot up is in the background. Tribune Chronicle / Joe Gorman
Sutera began driving away after the first shots, hitting at least one vehicle in the parking lot before she fell from her car. At least a dozen shots were fired, police said.
McLaughlin drove away, according to police. They issued a bulletin for all police agencies to be on the lookout for McLaughlin, who is considered armed and dangerous.
Police entered a warrant for aggravated murder against McLaughlin.
Nancy Dunn, a resident of the complex, said she heard the gunfire. The first shots were very loud and she thought the trash was being emptied into a garbage truck, she said.
''I'm thinking, 'That's the garbage,' then I heard a couple of really loud shots, then a few seconds of quiet, then a couple more shots, but not as loud,'' Dunn said.
Police Chief Charles Colucci said the shooter used a handgun and a small caliber shotgun in the shooting.
Records from Mahoning County Common Pleas Court show that McLaughlin has a history of stalking Sutera. In 2010, he was sentenced to 180 days in jail after pleading guilty in the county court in Canfield to menacing by stalking and pandering obscenity. Judge Scott Hunter refused a request from McLaughlin's lawyer for a more lenient sentence and ordered him to serve the entire 180 days.
In 2011, McLaughlin was charged in Mahoning Common Pleas court with three counts of possessing criminal tools and three counts of pandering obscenity. He entered guilty pleas to counts of pandering obscenity and criminal tools. Mahoning County prosecutors recommended probation.
He was sentenced Nov. 29 to five years probation by Judge Maureen Sweeney, even after she had revoked his bond. He was also ordered to attend anger management classes.
In that case, police said McLaughlin and Sutera had known each other for 15 years and were family friends. After the woman broke up with her boyfriend in 2008, she confided in McLaughlin, but the relationship turned sour.
McLaughlin had set up a website in June 2010 that falsely claimed she had sexual contact with her students, falsely detailed her sexual preference and history, then sent the link to her employers, police said.
After the website was shut down, McLaughlin made another, which also was shut down, police said.
McLaughlin then sent a letter with similar information to every school in Mahoning, Trumbull and Mahoning County, including universities and colleges, according to court records. In all, Canfield detectives had found he sent about 500 letters specifically addressed to teachers and school administrators in the area, with a fake return address from Struthers.
Chief Colucci said he advises victims in stalking cases to always be careful and to expect the worst. He said Sutera took precautions but in the end they proved fruitless.
''This girl was as cautious as anybody,'' Colucci said.
Court records from a civil lawsuit Sutera filed against McLaughlin show how police were able to trace various disturbing emails back to McLaughlin.
On Wednesday, Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap said he assisted Canfield police in serving a search warrant at McLaughlin's home during one of the criminal cases, but he was not sure what was seized. He said his department has been on the lookout for McLaughlin and is helping Canfield in their investigation.
''Hopefully, we'll catch up with this guy pretty soon,'' Dunlap said.
Dunlap said McLaughlin does not have a major criminal record in Lake County.
Colucci said they believe McLaughlin was waiting for Sutera and surprised her. Given their history, he said McLaughlin was a person of interest right away.
''Without question he was an immediate suspect,'' Colucci said.
Personnel from the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation helped Canfield detectives collect evidence.